At its best, the crime novel is a raw wound and a primal scream. This is not simply a matter of style. In recent times, Ken Bruen, David Peace and James Ellroy have written police procedurals that are virtually incoherent and spittle-flecked with inarticulate rage. Robert Wilson, the creator of Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, offers a more measured, traditional style, one reminiscent of Charles Willeford, but one which – again, like Willeford – is all the more compellingly terrifying for the way in which his mannered craft serves as a civilised veneer stretched thinly across the abyss.
The final novel in the Javier Falcón quartet, which is set for the most part in Seville, opens in the wake of a terrorist bombing, the perpetrators of which Falcón has publicly sworn to bring to justice. A parallel investigation, into the Russian mafia, which mainly operates on the Costa del Sol but is spreading further into Andalucia, appears to be connected with the bombing. That would represent more than enough plot for most writers, but this is a fiendishly complex and labyrinthine tale: as Wilson brings together the loose threads of the preceding triptych, Falcón investigates the murder of his ex-wife, discovers that his friend Yacoub is being blackmailed by Islamic radicals, and has to deal with the kidnapping of the son of his current lover, Consuelo, by protagonists unknown, as they bid to deflect Falcón from his various investigations.
If all of the above makes Falcón sound like a genre-friendly superman, nothing could be further from the truth. Urbane and dogged, he is nonetheless the first to admit his failings and limitations, be they personal or professional. Confronting the alleged murderer of his ex-wife, for example, his approach is not the eye-bulging, desk-thumping bluster beloved of Hollywood. Polite and reasonable, attentive to detail, Falcón adheres to protocol. It’s only later, in the privacy of his own torment, that Falcón allows himself the luxury of internalised rage and bitter recrimination. Despite the high number of expertly crafted action sequences, ‘The Ignorance of Blood’ is first and foremost a fascinating psychological study of a complicated Everyman, the reluctant voice of a generation that is resolute in the face of unprecedented threat and yet fearful of its inability, ultimately, to cope with the subtleties of the parasites that gnaw at the underbelly of the traditional European mores of logic, reason and enlightenment, be they Russian mafia or Islamic extremist.
Despite his paralysing predicament, Falcón, like Beckett’s unnameable, goes on. Wilson, who won the 1999 CWA Gold Dagger for the historically split narrative of A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON, understands that he is writing within the parameters of genre fiction, and that his primary duty is to provide a work of entertainment, regardless of how challenging its contents might be to the reader more accustomed to crime fiction’s sentimental notions of justice, truth and chivalry. But to describe THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD as an entertainment is akin to calling Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ a wall hanging. By the end, the endemic corruption that underpins Seville’s beautiful façade has permeated Falcón’s soul, and the implicit message is that anyone who wishes to survive the impending world order had best roll up his or her sleeves and get their hands good and dirty.
The conceit of a good man doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is not a revolutionary one, and Wilson is too canny to offer one last saddle-up for the tarnished knight. Instead he offers a hugely satisfying and authentic police procedural, in which a group of individually flawed but reasonably effective group of all-too-human beings try again, and fail again, and fail better. - Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post
Praise for Declan Burke: “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – The Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “A hardboiled delight.” – The Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review). “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre, was ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.” – Sunday Times. “The writing is a joy.” – Ken Bruen. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.