A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson delves back into a Nazi past to link with a present day murder. I knew nothing about Portuguese history in the 2nd half of the 20th century before I began this book, and I learnt a lot. I also learnt what wolfram is!
If as a reader you are a little nervous of lots of 'foreign' names, then beware, this book is bursting with characters, mostly of German and Portuguese origin with names that frighten...but the names are not half as frightening as the personalities, which are brutal, grasping, amoral and egocentric. Above this, shines Ze (joe in English) Coehlo, the detective looking into the recent rape and murder of a Lisbon schoolgirl. As we read his 1st person account of his investigation, we are subjected to the 3rd person narrative of the story of Felsen, an SS officer, who moves through WWII and its aftermath as the perpetrator and observer of all sorts of darkness and evil.
The NY Times described it as…a historically sprawling, richly distilled thriller…and I would second that. The book is long, complex, involved and passionate. It’s an extremely difficult read if you're not too keen on the most base instincts of humanity; through the long history recounted, we experience torture, rape, murder and paedophilia. No one seems to emerge unscathed. Even Ze has his faults, especially his eruptive and dangerous temper. I was beginning to sink below the ink-black waves when suddenly, right at the end, is the best twist ever. A very dark book with a very scary end.