Robert Wilson's intense novel of crime and ignominy begins with a brutal murder in Portugal in the 1990s, when the body of a teenaged girl is cast upon the beach near the home of Inspector Ze Coelho. First on the scene, the Inspector is appalled by the brutality of the killing. With few clues to direct their search, the inspector and his colleague track the final day of Catarina's sordid and misdirected life, where they discover incontrovertible evidence that the young girl's innocence was early destroyed by sex, drugs and emotional abuse.
At this point, the story backtracks to Germany 1941, where evil prevails in stark relief to the everyday violence that peppers the 1990s. These are the Reich years, when unbridled power dominates and actors on the world stage struggle against the fascism that runs rampant through Europe. Lisbon is a hotbed of activity, a venue from which great fortunes are made and close allies are determined by their access to natural materials needed by the Reich.
Compliant after a few days of torture, Klaus Felsen, a successful German factory owner, is cashiered into the SS. His job is critical - purchasing or poaching wolfram, a particular metal need by the Reich, with Lisbon as his base of operations. More importantly, the port city is the source of wolfram. The greedy fingers of the nefarious past reach out to corrupt the future, where Inspector Coelho has barely begun gathering information for the case of the murdered girl.
Wilson moves masterfully from one era to another, from modern-day Portugal to the great cataclysm of World War II. No sooner does he slip into Lisbon's heated rhythms than the author plunges back into the abyss of Felsen's nightmarish world, where brutality is a by-product of the Reich mentality. The connections are slowly revealed, depositing fetid secrets and infamous deeds into present day Lisbon, everything a facade, a world hiding from its ugly past. The men who have survived and profited from the war years, now respectable, have much to fear from exposure and a serious mistrust of one another.
As Coelho unravels the complicated threads that link past actions to the murdered Caterina, the stark simplicity of practiced evil is shattering. In the clear light of day, the same parasites thrive on the underbelly of society, the same men deposited by the Reich to do its bidding. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it seems. As Coelho discovers, there is always another layer, another level of depravity. We should learn through the repetition of our mistakes. Coelho understands: “It is a personal thing and people are vengeful creatures, which is why history will never teach us anything.”
This is a remarkable and powerful novel, beautifully structured, with characters that make your skin crawl and others who inspire hope in mankind‘s basic dignity. The complicated series of events build to a shocking resolution in an intricate novel that inhabits the mind long after the last page is turned.