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BOOK REVIEW

Pursuing bad guys and inner demons

Robert Wilson wraps up his Spanish mystery series in the fourth book. Robert Wilson wraps up his Spanish mystery series in the fourth book.
By Julie Wittes Schlack
July 16, 2009
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‘The Ignorance of Blood’’ is the final installment in Robert Wilson’s interlocking quartet of mysteries set in Seville, Spain, and featuring detective Javier Falcón. As in other great detective series, the psyche of this protagonist is as layered and labyrinthine as the crimes he sets out to solve. But by the end of this articulate novel, Wilson has managed not only to weave together strands of a mystery involving the Russian mafia, radical Islam, and government corruption, but he has led us on Falcón’s inner journey through dead ends and detours, emerging finally on a clear, uncharted stretch of road.

While Wilson’s writing is astute and cool, his story is sweltering. Indeed, we first meet Falcón at 3 a.m. when “the phone trembled under the warm breath of the brutal night.’’ The heat in Seville is oppressive, and almost as dominant a character as any other in the book. Falcón seems to regularly be up all night, not just because his job demands it, but because only then is it cool enough to think.

And Falcón has a lot to think about. He is augmenting his police duties by “running’’ Yacoub Diouri, an undercover agent who is infiltrating a radical Moroccan Islamist group - an agent with whom he has close emotional and historical ties. He has vowed, and thus far failed, to find all the people responsible for a terrorist bombing. And Esteban Calderon, the judge alleged to have murdered Falcón’s ex-wife, is languishing in jail, contemptible but quite possibly innocent. Meanwhile, a former love interest, Consuelo, is back in his life, and this time they are both ready for her to be there. So when Falcón is called to the scene of a fatal car accident in which a Russian thug has been mangled but his trunk full of cash and computer discs has remained intact, this new case feels like a distraction.

Of course it isn’t. The shifting alliances and internecine battles for control of the drug, prostitution, and - perhaps more corrupting than either - the real estate business in Seville, ultimately lead back to Calderon and to the bombing. As if the plot isn’t complex and compacted enough, Falcón’s ethics and identity are challenged when, in an apparent attempt to extort him, someone kidnaps Consuelo’s 8-year-old son, Dario.

As Falcón tries to find the boy, capture the murderous Russians, expose the crooked politicians, and manage Yacoub’s deeper immersion into the terrorist group, the novel’s disparate plot strands and psychological themes come together. Vulnerability, betrayal, and blood ties crowd and jostle with cool, systematic police work as Falcón is forced to once again reckon with his own demons.

“The Ignorance of Blood’’ isn’t flawless. The plot’s numerous swivels and turns border on overwhelming. And while Falcón’s psychological development over the course of the four novels is satisfying for the fan who has read the books in order, Wilson doesn’t provide quite enough back story for readers who haven’t. But these flaws are worth enduring in a mystery as engaging and vivid as this one. Falcón’s days are so torrid that when night comes and the air becomes bearable, readers feel it as an almost tactile reprieve. And that’s a tribute to Wilson’s smart and vivid writing.

Julie Wittes Schlack is a Cambridge-based writer and facilitator of online communities.

THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD By Robert Wilson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 422 pp., $27

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