Being in the wrong place at the wrong time couldn't have been more right for the man who has brought new life to crime writing.
HIS clothes are immaculate,
the manners slightly less so. In fact, the man looks close to bursting as he
cuts in on the conversation. ``You're not the writer Robert Wilson?'' he
demands, buttonholing the slightly diffident Englishman who has just given his
name to the hotel receptionist. ``You are, you are,'' the Italian guest
continues excitedly as he reaches out to engulf hands. ``You're the reason my
friends and I are here, in
``This doesn't happen every day,'' a slightly shaken-if-still-stirred Wilson confides later, after he and I had plunged into the cobblestoned labyrinth of old Seville on our own pilgrimage to visit the haunts of his charismatic character, the Spanish homicide inspector Javier Falcon. ``But it is gratifying,'' he smiles, ``because writers are usually so anonymous. Especially if, like me, they live far off the celebrity circuit.''
That's only slightly disingenuous. For starters, he stands out in any crowd, anywhere, given that he has the looming presence of someone who was tipped to reach the top as a rugby union forward until a car accident almost killed him, curtailing that career. And his Mediterranean home base (he has another in England) is relatively isolated: he lives four hours' drive from Seville across the border in Portugal's rural Alentejo -- a trip that took three hours longer this time after he and his wife Jane had a puncture three minutes from home and had to wait through siesta for repairs -- but his fame is transcontinental and spreading widely.
His first Mediterranean-set crime novel, A Small Death in
The Falcon narratives take few prisoners: as yarns, they are multistrand and tightly woven. They are peopled by crowds of eccentric, larger-than-life characters. They delve into the extremes of psychological and anti-social behaviours. They are splattered with often gruesome violence (of the spirit as much as of the body) and singed with cynicism and Hispanic surrealism. They are also written with subtle skill as they explore place, people and evolving perceptions.
The inspector is a work in progress, evolving from the psychologically stunted and insecure loner of The Blind Man of Seville to a man shedding emotional shell-shock in The Silent and the Damned to a post-therapy cross-cultural voyager in touch with his inner man in the new release, The Hidden Assassins (HarperCollins, $32.99). These changes are reflected in Falcon's approach to sleuthing as he goes from the coldly clinical and scientific to the intuitive.
In his world of homicide and heartache, history influences the present as a complex of back stories traverses art, society and politics (of the fascist, fundamentalist, familial, sexual and career kinds), with a seasoning of modern corruptions, accommodations, secrets and betrayals. ``The essence of crime fiction,''
Constant throughout his expositions of deadly dramas and dirty dealings is
THE key to him
writing at all, he says, is the same as the key to all of his writing: place.
First you find the place, then you find the story. Yet his own place was for a
long time problematical, as was his story. An
``You become this person who can adapt to any situation, and to any personality, because you want to fit in.'' That's why he focused on sport and why he was relieved to be good enough to be accepted in the clubhouse culture.
Then came his pile-up. He was a passenger in a putative brother-in-law's car, and he remembers hearing two paramedics ``decide `not to bother with that one because he's gone'. `I'm alive,' I wanted to shout, but I couldn't make a sound. I was terrified I was going to die because I couldn't get their attention.''
After a long recovery, he went from being a sport-centric jock ``to making different friends, being more open and getting an insight into a different world entirely. In a way, I've used Javier Falcon as a way of talking about what happened to me, how my vision was opened up by a traumatic experience. Experiences like that either make you or break you.''
He developed a quiet desire to be a writer but didn't know how, so he worked in finance in
They married and travelled in Africa for a year before washing up in Sintra, just outside
It was the kind of romantic and cheap place in which a Hemingway-admiring, thriller-inclined tyro could start writing. But it was a long learning curve. Over the next few years, the house absorbed all their financial resources as they made it livable in a climate that in summer touches 45C in the shade. As penury approached, the couple were commissioned in 1993 to write a guidebook to the Alentejo. That paid off a desperate bill or three and more importantly showed
In 1998 he decided ``to write about
That book, his fifth, won a Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award for fiction and tipped the financial balance. And then, of course, came
I suggest that an outsider would think
* * *
IN The Hidden Assassins,
Just as Falcon is learning to come to terms with both his discovered Moroccan family and his Spanish background and ties, so Wilson wants to ``help people understand through showing both sides of the story, and by personalising it, just what fanaticism is. And to help people understand what the effects of terrorism are by showing it happening on the personal and mental levels.''
There is psychological terrorism, he explains, and ``there is a sort of domestic terrorism, andthat's what we're all having to deal with today. It is changing our world perspective. But it is vitally important that we know where terrorism is coming from, and that we don't respond to it only from fear or from national or religious prejudice.''
It seems, in some ways, quite distant from Monk's Spring, now transformed into a two-storey, two-apartment solar-powered writer's retreat, complete (as of this year) with swimming pool. Yet all of the above was almost lost last month when a bushfire torched much of the surrounding groves and touched the house. When you find the right place, the stories and the dramas just keep coming.
This article appeared first in The Weekend Australian, 26 AUG 2006. Copyright (c) Murray Waldren
Feel free to Feedback Just drop a line to email@example.com
Back to Literary Liaisons