|| “Wilson's plotting is intricate, his detective endearingly human, Seville a captivating venue. This is crime fiction of a high order.”
“This is an ingeniously complex mystery driven by rich, intelligent dialogue and bathed in a stylish ambience, evoking a world of soulful sophistication that Euro-mystery fans right back to Maigret will savour.”
Mario Vega is seven years old and his life is about to change forever. Across the street in an exclusive suburb of Seville his father is splayed out dead on the kitchen floor, while his mother lies in bed upstairs, suffocated under her own pillow. It appears to be a suicide pact, but Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his doubts when he finds an enigmatic note crushed into the dead man's hand.
In the brutal summer heat Falcón begins to dismantle the obscure life of Rafael Vega only to receive threats from the Russian mafia, who have begun operating in the city. His investigation includes the neighbours: on one side a creative American couple with a destructive past and on the other a famous actor, whose only son is in prison for an appalling crime. Opposite lives Consuelo Jiménez, who Falcón has met before when she was suspected of murdering her husband.
Within days two further suicides follow - one of them a senior policeman - while a forest fire rages through the hills above Seville, obliterating all in its path. And Falcón is left to sweat out the truth, which will reveal that everything is connected and that there is one more terrible secret in the black heart of Vega's life.
The naming of books
Titles are strange things. Sometimes one will come to you even before you've written a word while others only come after the book is finished, the publisher is hammering on the table and you've spent months searching through Books of Quotations and trying every cryptic combination of suitable words. In this case I had written a poem to get my head into the idea of the book before I'd started and the title had come zooming off the page and onto my manuscript. It was: The Vanished Hands. That was my preferred title and it is the title everywhere else in the world except the UK. What happened? The sales team didn't like it and if you want your book to appear in the bookshops in volume you have to have their support. So, it had to be changed. Have you ever tried thinking up your second favourite title? The Silent and the Damned came to me ten minutes before I was due to go into surgery for a hernia operation. You never know when you're going to get your lucky break.
Talk to me
Being the perverse writer that I am I decided that, rather than do what all series set out to do: give more of the same but slightly different each time, I would make each book in the quartet different in style. Part of the intention of this book was to rehabilitate Javier Falcón after the horrors of The Blind Man of Seville. Because the Spanish use self-expression as a kind of 24/7 psychotherapy and one of Falcón's problems had been his inability to communicate, I decided that most of the story of this novel would be told in dialogue. This means as the reader you have to be on your toes. Vital clues can flit past in a brief exchange.
The Russian mafia also plays a role in this book. At the time of writing there were a lot of Ukrainians arriving in the Iberian Peninsula and more especially in the area where we were living in Portugal. I met quite a few of them. Some did building work on my house. They told me how, as they'd arrived at the Portuguese embassy in Poland to get visas, their entry would be barred by Russian mafia men. These heavies would 'tell' them that visas and transport could be organised for a fee of € 1,000. They had no option but to hand over their passports and the money. They were then put on buses to Portugal. A lot of them had learnt from the rumour machine that it was best to get off the bus before it arrived in the capital because the mafia would meet them again. They would force the men to work for no pay on construction sites, while the women and children ended up in brothels. Certainly my wife and I had seen increased evidence of large scale prostitution on the roadside in Spain, especially on the outskirts of holiday resorts, where there would be as many as thirty girls of Eastern European appearance waving as we drove by. The Spanish are the largest consumers of cocaine and prostitutes in Europe.
Taking money to the cleaners
As many now know, the whole of the Spanish economy is 'built' on the construction industry. Wherever you go in this vast country, on the outskirts of every town, there is a massive development underway. The Costa del Sol is especially vulnerable to overdevelopment and has been home to criminal gangs who use the industry to launder their money. It is well documented how town councillors from Marbella accumulated helicopters, fast cars and luxurious homes. The Russian mafia were making more money from people trafficking than the drug barons were from cocaine. What were they going to do with the cash? Put it into buildings. I imagined how the mafia would begin to move in on another target, the city of Seville, and how they would corrupt people to get what they wanted.
The lives of others
I have always been fascinated by people who have had previous, and possibly greater, lives. The idea of an ex-Nazi SS officer who ends up running a newsagent in a one-horse town in Idaho and is recognised by a tourist who comes in to buy a map, has always appealed. This was to be part of the rehabilitation process for Javier that, while he had faced up to his own family horrors, he would find himself investigating a number of people who were either running from their pasts or, in the case of Rafael Vega, suddenly being haunted by all those vanished hands. But whose hands were they?
THE SILENT AND THE DAMNED
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (22 Aug 2005)