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A Small Death in Lisbon

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,361 Ratings  ·  254 Reviews
Winner of the prestigious Gold Dagger Award in the U.K. for the best mystery of 1999, this complex literary thriller may be one of the most satisfying suspense novels to come along in some time. Robert Wilson has written several political thrillers, most of which are set in West Africa, but they are, alas, largely unavailable in the U.S.

In A Small Death in Lisbon, the narr
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Berkley (first published July 19th 1999)
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Community Reviews

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The synopsis for this novel sounded interesting and I was intrigued by the premise novel, a mystery/thriller/ police procedural set in Portugal. The novel spans two time periods and the plot is convoluted and there are many, many twists and turns. Sometimes you have an inkling which direction a plot will go, but with this one I didn't and that was a big plus.

However I couldn't empathize with any of the characters, there was no connection with them. Also there is a lot of violence towards women i
Nuno Chaves
Mar 27, 2010 Nuno Chaves rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2002
Quando se começa a ler o Último Acto em Lisboa, a primeira impressão ás primeiras páginas é de fechar o livro… mas após a leitura de mais algumas linhas a opinião deixa de ser a mesma, mas reside a pergunta, o que é que 2 histórias tão diferentes passadas em épocas tão diferentes têm a ver uma com a outra?… Tudo. A acção começa com um assassinio no final dos anos 90. e regressa logo a seguir para trás até 1941, onde Klaus é enviado pelo Reich até ao nosso país. 6 decadas de história, desde o ini ...more
I'm not going to finish this. This book is artificial. The writing has the stench of the studio to it. It reads well..., in fact, too well... goes down as smooth as a Jamaca malt (whatever the f&k that means...) - there are manufactured sex scenes, novelistic descriptions of Nazi generals the author, obviously, has never met... and who therefore feel somewhat formulaic. In other words, this book/writer is a pro - he's very proficient -- you can actually see him at work, laying down the board ...more
Toni Osborne
Feb 04, 2009 Toni Osborne rated it it was amazing
The story begins in the 1990's in Portugal when the body of a teenaged girl is found on a beach brutally murdered. Inspector Ze Coelho and his colleague are first on the scene and begin the investigation by tracking the final days of Catalina's life where they discover her innocence was destroyed by sex, drugs and emotional abuse.

The story then backtracks to 1941 when Klaus Felsen is forced out of his Berlin factory and into the ranks of the SS. He is sent to Lisbon where his mandate is to procu
Maria João Fernandes
Portugal é o palco central de ambas as histórias contadas por Robert Wilson: a investigação de um homicídio com contornos sexuais de uma rapariga de 15 anos em 1998 e uma saga sangrenta e complexa que começa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial em 1941.

Ambas as narrativas se apresentam, ora uma ora outra, inicialmente, sem qualquer relação, mas os caminhos das suas fascinantes personagens estão destinados a cruzar-se.

Duas histórias, três narradores principais. Klaus Felsen é um homem de negócios am
Tom Vater
Mar 31, 2013 Tom Vater rated it really liked it
A while back I reviewed Robert Wilson‘s Blood is Dirt on I didn’t really like the African set thriller, the Graham Greene construct was strained, but I decided to go back to Wilson and give him another try with A Small Death in Lisbon.

Great book. Ambitious in scope, this novel set in Portugal has two narratives, one set in the 1940s when the Nazis exported Wolfram for the war effort. We follow Klaus Felsen, a German industrialist through the war years. Felsen is a fascinating
Jul 30, 2010 Jenn rated it really liked it
I feel this book started off a little slowly, but I ended up really enjoying the ride. The fact that it stitched together two periods in time is what first called my attention to it (mostly the WWII-era story), and I have to say that I think the challenge was well-handled by the author. There was a lot more character depth and backstory than I expected from a "crime novel" (a genre largely out of my area of interest), but then, maybe that's not really what it was.
May 27, 2016 Rita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
O início da leitura deste livro foi uma luta. Aquilo que parecia, nos primeiros capítulos, uma história chata transformou-se e acabou por me agarrar literalmente ao livro.
O trabalho de pesquisa que o autor apresenta é surpreendente.
Lisboa / Portugal – Anos 40 - Verificamos ao longo do livro que não se limitou a pesquisar sobre Lisboa, mas também sobre o Portugal profundo, seus costumes, tradições e produtos tradicionais. Descreve bem a sociedade e a classe política da época. Mostra-nos o posici
Jun 10, 2014 Romily rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
The plot of this crime novel is complex and ingenious and I admired the way the strands connected. There is a level of sex and violence which is a little uncomfortable for a reader without a strong stomach, but it is not gratuitous. The unfamiliarity of the Portuguese political setting was a bonus as I had little idea of the details of Nazi collaboration.
Denise M. Hartman
Oct 28, 2012 Denise M. Hartman rated it really liked it
This is more gritty than what I normally read with a lot more sex than I prefer but to the author's credit it was all part of the plot and not simply gratuitous. The span of Portugal from World War II and the modern murder and the integration of the two timelines was masterful and kept me reading fascinated to see how it would come together.
Althea Ann
Feb 17, 2012 Althea Ann rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me as a high-quality thriller... something that's a bit hard to find, sometimes.
When it came in the mail, I have to say, my first thought was, "why does it have to have swastikas all over it?" OK, fine, Nazis, villains, but you still don't always want to be carrying swastikas around with you on the subway... It put me off from reading it for a while.

But - I got around to it.
It's a very well-written book. I haven't visited Portugal, but I was convinced that the auth
May 14, 2009 Erin rated it did not like it
This book tells the story of a Portuguese police detective investigating the murder of a promiscuous teenage girl in Lisbon. The investigation is interrupted by frequent flashbacks to World War II, when a Nazi SS officer named Felsen comes to Portugal to acquire wolfram for Germany and hide Nazi gold via a banking venture.

I found the history of Portugal in World War II to be very interesting. Beyond that, I didn't love this book. The police detective, Coehlo, is a likable protagonist, but the mu
Ed O'farrell
May 28, 2012 Ed O'farrell rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery
I like a solid plot. And if the plot is complex, so much the better. Usually a complex plot will depend on a co-incidence or two, but still hang plausibly together. This book fails that test. There are more twists and turns and surprises than in any three novels I've read. And they don't hang together. By the end of the book I was laughing out loud as some of the more arcane bits of the plot were revealed at last. Somebodies cousins uncles ex-wife's lover shot ... Schools of red herrings ... wel ...more
Jun 19, 2013 Hirondelle rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 08, 2013 Autumn rated it liked it
I enjoy complex plots, which this had, and intermingled histories, which this also had. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find all the overlapping relationships to be unbelievable- that seems to happen in the tiny worlds of the 1%.

I wish there had been more Portugal in this book. The author clearly meant for the country to be another character in it, but he didn't describe it well enough for those of us who haven't been there. That might be an asset if you're from there, but I felt like I'd
A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson won the 1999 Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel. It is a complex parallel story set in WWII and in 1999, in Berlin and Lisbon. It begins with Nazis coercing Swabian businessman Klaus Felsen into leaving Berlin to procure wolfram for them (by any means) in Portugal.

“At dawn the heavy black curtains were crushing the iron-grey light back outside. The white linen bedclothes were stiff with cold. Felsen's head came off the pillow at the second crash, whic
Nina Milton
Sep 10, 2013 Nina Milton rated it liked it
Shelves: crime
I knew nothing about Portuguese history in the 2nd half of the 20th century before I began this book, and I learnt a lot. I also learnt what wolfram is! However, if as a reade, you're a little nervous of lots of 'foreign' names, then beware, this book is bursting with characters, mostly of German and Porguguese originn with names that frighten...but the names are not half as frightening as the personalities, which are brutal, grasping, ammoral and egocentric. Above this, shines Ze (joe in Englis ...more
Jun 02, 2008 Mom rated it it was ok
I had a hard time pushing through to the end of this book, but I just could not give up on it because I had to see how the two story lines tied together in the end. How were the lives of 2 Nazi Germans going to tie into the murder of a young girl in Lisbon in the 1990's? One of the highlights of the book was the modern day detective character. I struggled somewhat with the political activities that were referred to since I have a very limited knowledge of Portugal's history. This book definitely ...more
Feb 19, 2016 Isidora rated it really liked it
En förstklassig deckare och en mycket bra bok! Jag är helt såld på berättarstilen, de fantastiska personskildringarna, själva handlingen, de mysiga lisbonmiljöerna, ja, nästan på allt. Men boken faller lite på slutet och därför en fyra.
Jul 25, 2013 Sofia rated it really liked it
A well structured plot. It has enough events going on, without making it dull.
It's an interesting book, well written. The perfect summer book.
Apr 23, 2015 Katrina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I can't say I liked this book, exactly. I hovered over three stars for a while near the end, tiring of the 400-page immersion in the world of despicable people and their overly-described full range of bodily functions. Nevertheless, I had to bump the rating back up to four stars when I sat down to glance at the first lines of a chapter before making dinner, and, hours later, having been unable to set it back down, closed the completed book.

Wilson's writing is undeniably skillful. All the loose e
4 stars for story (no, it's nothing new but I'm a sucker for murder mysteries with roots in historical events) but 3 stars for execution. The language felt awkward at times - as if a non-native English speaker (not quite fluent) wrote it. Or as if the manuscript was written in a foreign language first and then translated to English by a non-author.

Sigh. I don't mean to sound harsh because I actually ended up mostly enjoying the story.

Perhaps the syntax was chosen deliberately by the author beca
Dec 09, 2008 Joyce rated it it was ok
Shelves: mysteries
Well, this is one of the few I haven't finished. Goodness knows I tried. I just couldn't get through it. I was forcing myself to read it the way one forces one's self to eat a few bites of a food one doesn't like.

The story wasn't bad. I didn't like any of the characters. I found them all crass and frankly I got tired of the sex. Tedious or disturbing is how it came off. I was uncomfortable with the amount of rape and treating women as objects in this book, not people. Come to think of it the men
Abril G. Karera
Jul 06, 2016 Abril G. Karera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hace menos de una hora que terminé de leerlo y no se me ha borrado la sonrisa por haber sentido todos los cabos atados. Novela negra histórica, desarrollo de personajes, violencia, crimen, hombres en decadencia. Creo que es uno de esos libros que comienzan a adquirir más forma días después de su lectura. Probablemente vuelva por aquí de nuevo para ser más certera con mi comentario. Pero sí léanlo.
Dec 30, 2007 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Wilson is a superb author and has travelled and lived in the places he sets his novels. I believe this really adds to the feeling and detail he seems to be able to bring alive in the pages he writes. This novel won the CWA gold dagger and quite rightly so. The novel spans the WW2 to the late 90's in Lisbon and was published at a time when Nazi gold/funds hadn't been done to death. The characters are absorbing and believable and the historical context is interesting.

As a result of reading
Charles Moore
Jun 09, 2015 Charles Moore rated it it was ok
I had mixed emotions about this book. The murder mystery sort of hung together except towards the end. This was not unlike a lot of other mysteries with their big-players-behind-the-scenes and our detective turned out to be just a pawn. I don't think I am a lazy reader but this got so convoluted that by the three-quarters mark I was lost. But, fully half of the book is the Nazi-smuggled gold-last-ditch tried-and-true over-worked-Robert-Ludlum motif that took so very long to become part of the cu ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Elaine rated it really liked it
Great murder mystery. Lots of facts about Portugal's history from 1930's to present day. Chapters switch from WWII past to late 1990's present.Kept my interest to the very end.
Michael Batz
Jul 08, 2016 Michael Batz rated it really liked it
This is one of those novels where a story from the past and a story from the present run into each other, and in this case it works. Intricately plotted and historically sprawling, it's as much about post-war Portuguese society as it is about the murder investigation that drives the present story, or the WWII machinations that drive the past one. Because Wilson has a larger goal in mind than just telling a ripping yarn, the two-plot approach doesn't feel like it's there just to heighten the dram ...more
Jun 16, 2016 Shari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who is Robert Wilson and why hadn't I heard of him? This is a Gold Dagger Award book from 1999.

The "small death" occurs in Portugal in 1998 -- a young girl, not yet of age -- but the story begins in February, 1941, in Berlin with the subtle recruiting of the civilian owner of a manufacturing company vital to the Nazi prospects who is brought into the SS and sent to Portugal, that often least known and understood of the European countries. He is to see to the acquisition of Portuguese wolfram wh
Angelo Haritakis
This is a exceptional and powerful novel.

Loved the way the characters were intertwined, they were engrossing and true to life ... and the main detective was a curious character but likable.

Easy pace but compelling nevertheless with interesting historical undertones.
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Robert Wilson has written thirteen novels including the Bruce Medway noir series set in West Africa and two Lisbon books with WW2 settings the first of which, A Small Death in Lisbon, won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999 and the International Deutsche Krimi prize in 2003. He has written four psychological crime novels set in Seville, with his Spanish detective, Javier Falcón. Two of these books (The Bl ...more
More about Robert Wilson...

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“Loss is like a shrapnel wound, I said, where the piece of metal's got stuck in a place where the surgeons daren't go, so they decide to leave it. It is painful at first, horribly painful, so that you wonder you can live with it. But then the body grows around it, until it doesn't hurt anymore. Not like it used to be. But every now and again there are these twinges when you are not ready for them, and you realize it is still there, and it's always going to be there. It is a part of you. A still, hard point inside.” 6 likes
“They crossed the Mondego and Dao rivers to Viseu and headed south to Coimbra and Leiria.” 4 likes
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