'The Hidden Assassins' by Robert Wilson

Terrorism, police work mix well in new book

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Robert Wilson writes so beautifully, the reader sometimes forgets the horror of what he is describing. Consider this:

"Terrible things happened simultaneously. Windows shattered. Cracks and giant fissures opened up in the walls. Daylight appeared where it shouldn't. Level horizons tilted. Doorframes folded. Solid concrete flexed. The ceiling crowded the floor. Walls broke in half."

"The Hidden Assassins"

By Robert Wilson
Harcourt ($25)


Each short sentence is a sharp jab to the gut as Wilson puts us right into the middle of a bomb explosion that has leveled an apartment building in Seville, Spain, killing at least seven people, four of them youngsters from an adjacent preschool.

When it is learned that there was a mosque in the basement of the apartment building, the Spanish public automatically assumes the blast was Muslim terrorism. Further discoveries of three stolen cars and a van containing a black hood, two copies of the Koran and traces of an explosive seem to confirm that opinion.

Eventually the names of two known terrorists, Hammad and Saoudi, are identified as having been seen entering the mosque before the blast.

But that is just too neat for chief inspector Javier Falcon, the flawed hero of "The Blind Man of Seville" and "The Vanished Hands." He picks at loose threads, like the discovery of a mutilated and faceless body just hours before the explosion, and slowly weaves them into intertwining webs, one a small conspiracy of well-known politicos who have put pursuit of power ahead of morality and another large one that could cause catastrophe across the continent if not nipped in the bud.

The leaders of the right-wing minority party Fuerza Andalucia figured a small bomb at the mosque would increase anti-Muslim feelings and enhance their power during the next round of elections. But they didn't realize that experienced terrorists Hammad and Saoudi had stored part of a large shipment of explosives in the mosque for use in a much more catastrophic round of bombings.

The case comes together quickly after Falcon is able to identify the faceless man as someone Fuerza Andalucia hired to write Arabic on school architectural plans found in a metal lockbox in the mosque.

He gets enough evidence to bring murder charges against party figures in that case, but cannot pin the bombing on the politicos.

What he can do is help the international intelligence committee track the cars that are carrying the rest of the large shipment of explosive out of the country.

In the end that has to be enough.

"You have to be satisfied with what you've achieved," an intelligence agent tells Falcon, who spies for the United States. "You've prevented a dangerous group of Catholic fanatics from developing a power base. ... And in the process, through the actions of Hammad and Saoudi, we have uncovered an Islamic jihadist plot."

Wilson handles the big politics of terrorism and anti-terrorism well; so, too, the daily grind of police work.

But he is just as good at the little subplots that make Falcon, his relatives and his coworkers so real. In this book, his ex-wife is beaten to death by the judge who cuckolded Falcon in the first place.

His sister's boyfriend, a well-known reporter, is arrested and charged in connection with both the death of the faceless man and the bombing itself. Falcon vows that he is going to win back the love of an old flame, a woman who is undergoing painful psychoanalysis.

Meanwhile, Falcon, an agent for the United States, is backed into recruiting a good friend into the spy network.

For all the terror and violence of the book, Wilson -- and Falcon through him -- holds onto some romanticism. Just as he's getting over the bombing case, restaurateur Consuelo Jimenez walks back into Falcon's life.

"It's always the way that, just as your mind engages elsewhere, the person you've been waiting for all this time arrives. She was over him before he knew it.

"'The pensive Inspector Jefe,' she said.

"His heart leapt in his chest, so that he sprang to his feet.

"'As usual,' he said, 'you're looking beautiful, Consuelo.'"

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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