A Small Death in Lisbon
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A Small Death in Lisbon

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3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,541 ratings  ·  201 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...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Berkley (first published July 19th 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nuno Alexandre Chaves
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
AC
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
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...more
Erin
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...more
Ed O'farrell
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
Hirondelle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susan
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...more
Mom
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
Althea Ann
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...more
Joyce
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...more
Autumn
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...more
Tom Vater
A while back I reviewed Robert Wilson‘s Blood is Dirt on thedevilsroad.com. 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...more
Nina Milton
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
Nick
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...more
Elaine
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.
Jenn
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.
michi (mick-ee)
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...more
Romily
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
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.
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.
Judi Niermann
Berlin 1941 and Lisbon 1990's are intertwined in this engrossing murder mystery. A teenagers death in later dater Lisbon is tied to events in Berlin 1941. That's all I'm telling. Very good read. Author Robert Wilson kept me on the edge of seat all the way through.
Kim Cornelson
Excellent mystery set in Portugal spanning period of WWII to the 1990's. The historical pieces concerning Portugal's role in WWII are extremely interesting. The author's develops his characters with a touch of humor.
Sofia
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.
Kirsty Darbyshire
[my comments are taken from a mailing list discussion and may contain spoliers!]

I'm not going to manage to finish the book before going off on my holidays on Friday so I'm going to wade in with what I think so far and catch up when I get back. (By which time I'll have to catch up on the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency discussion too)

I started reading this book and after a couple of chapters had to check the cover to check that the title was indeed "Small Death in _Lisbon_" as I was in 1941 Berlin a

...more
Anna
Portugal, 1940s and 1990s. Wilson is a UK-born author of which I don't think I've seen many books here in US (in fact also the copy I read was bought in Ireland).
Nice amount of details in the descriptions in the story, and it keeps you wondering what happened. The history parts of the story, from 1940s to 1990s, only bind to the story in the end, when it seems to be resolved. Enough action and enough interesting characters too. I'd say 8 to 8 1/2 stars out of 10, but the location being in Portug...more
Ali
I read this book while visiting Portugal, and I admit that I probably wouldn't've rated it quite as highly if I weren't familiar with the places and history mentioned in the novel. As it was, though, I had a blast reading the novel and thinking to myself, "I know where that is... I was just in Alfama yesterday!"

The book starts with two very distinct story lines -- one that takes place in Lisbon in the late 1990s, and another that begins in Germany in the 1940s. The second of these two story line...more
Serena
A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson is a mystery set in Lisbon, Portugal, in the 1990s, but also a novel that has routes in World War II when Germans were looking for an escape route when the war looked to be ending, and not in their favor. The novel opens with the death of a young teen, Catarina Oliveira, who has a promiscuous past and a less-than-ideal family life. Inspector Zé Coelho is on the case, which drags him into conspiratorial intrigues and the dark, convoluted past of his home n...more
Mady
Feb 12, 2011 Mady rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2003, bc
I liked the book, but I found some "buts" while reading it - after checking Hirondelle's notes on the book, I have to say that I agree with some of them (the sex scenes, the blue eyes things - it is a scientifically possibility that parents with brown eyes have a blue-eyed kid, even though it'd be more likely for the kid to be brown-eyed). About the story, in the beginning it was a bit hard to read as I was much more interested in one of the stories, but not so much in the other one, but when th...more
Ubik 2.0


Troppi finali l’autore ha voluto affastellare al termine di una vicenda già di per sé sufficientemente complessa e ramificata; se la parte che si svolge ai nostri giorni è abbastanza scontata e si svolge con il rituale tipico delle inchieste (investigatore scorbutico ma astuto ed onesto con vita privata complicata, collega giovane pivello, testimoni simpatici ed antipatici, bar fumosi, quadri d’ambiente con varie corruzioni sullo sfondo, sesso e droga), molto più interessante è la vicenda ambien...more
Ana T.
I have to admit I was a bit wary of trying something that is set so close to us in time. Although I do love to read about Portuguese history during the first and second world wars the revolution of 1974 seems still too close to us. However after reading so many good recommendations of this book, and knowing that it was a mystery which is one of my favourite genres, I finally decided to pick it up.


As mentioned in the blurb there are two story lines, one set during WWII and dealing with Portugal'...more
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I wanted to be a writer from the moment that, at the age of 14, I silenced a class of my peers while reading out a love poem I'd written. In fact is was less of a love poem (what does a 14 year old know about that?) and more of an anxiety poem, which was why everybody identified with it. The intensity of those adolescents listening to my words amazed me. There was a certain buzzing quality to the...more
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