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Open Letters Monthly: "The thousands of fans Wilson made with his fantastic novel A Small Death in Lisbon will find everything to please them here."

Date: May 13 2015

One of the newest entries in the beguiling “World Noir” series from Europa Editions is Robert Wilson’s florid, intensely gripping You Will Never Find Me, in which his two main characters, kidnap experts Charles Boxer and Detective Inspector Mercy Danquah, are confronted with a missing-person case of the most personal kind: their daughter Amy has secretly packed up and run away from Mercy’s London home, leaving behind a note assuring her parents she has money and won’t be living on the street, asking them not to come looking for her, and ending with a line that reads like a mocking challenge: you will never find me.

Both parents are naturally shocked and mortified by this; they’ve been busy with their own lives and careers and are the first to admit their relationship with Amy has been neither attentive nor, lately, particularly caring. And their shock only deepens when they contact the police and discover that Amy was one step ahead of them there as well, having left a detailed note with the police asserting that she was leaving of her own free will, didn’t wish to be found, and was, after all, technically an adult. The two police officers who reluctantly talk to the worried parents as the novel opens are less than sympathetic, which prompts Mercy to launch into one of the bizarrely artificial yet oddly compelling arias of personal exposition to which all of Wilson’s characters are prone (reading his books is like reading a version of Richard Price who’s interested in – and competent at – plotted fiction):

‘Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to love a child,’ said Mercy. ‘There’s no choice and you don’t have any control over it from the moment they’re born. It’s not like being with a guy and thinking, look at all the grief I’m getting from this arsehole, time to move on. The child is a part of you. It would be like walking away from the best part of myself. And now she’s gone I don’t feel, thank God for that, at last I’ve got some … what’s it called? Me time, whatever that is. What I feel, Detective Sergeant Jones, is complete emptiness, as if the best love I’ve ever known has buggered off. And it’s my fault. I’m the failure. She loved me.’

Both parents set about at once to find the daughter who doesn’t want to be found, and Wilson’s narrative is by this point already shifting between their corner of the story and the corner belonging to his book’s hands-down most interesting character, a Colombian drug dealer nicknamed El Ossito, the little bear, a heavily-muscled and seedily charismatic killer who seems never at any point in his life to have been innocent. Even his warmest memories are steeped in blood:

Pig killing. La matanza. He’d been to a few in his time. Something human tremble on the outer limits of his mind as he remembered children running around the farm while the men, having killed the pig and bled it out, scalded it and scraped off the bristles, leaving a perfectly pink corpse. This they hung up by its hocks, and, as the pit was unzipped with a blade, the women went in and hauled out the guts into massive metal bowls. The dogs came skipping around, tails wagging, heads lowering, looking for a bit of generosity. The women turned away, blood-spattered from the clean, pink corpse, as if from a freshly murdered husband.

El Ossito quickly tops the list of suspects Boxer and Danquah hope might be able to lead them to their daughter, and Wilson so expertly complicates this plot with another kidnapping that after roughly page 35 there isn’t a single dull or even static passage anywhere in the book. This is police-procedural writing elevated very nearly to Reginald Hill levels.

“Who the hell are you?” a character asks Boxer at one point, to which he replies, “I’m an angry father.” “Right,” his questioner replies, “but you’re not an ordinary angry father. You’re very cool for an angry man. You’re thinking clearly … clearly but dangerously.” It’s to Wilson’s credit that such a “clearly but dangerously” description could apply equally well to half a dozen of his characters, all of whom are etched to crisp perfection. The thousands of fans Wilson made with his fantastic novel A Small Death in Lisbon will find everything to please them here.