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A Small Death in Lisbon

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  4,768 ratings  ·  393 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 Books (first published July 19th 1999)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  4,768 ratings  ·  393 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
Toni Osborne
Feb 04, 2009 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
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 boards of ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
'A Small Death in Lisbon' by Robert Wilson is two books in one for at least 500 pages. The first story, told in alternating chapters, is about a Lisbon homicide police detective's investigation of a sex murder of a young girl in 1998. The second novel is a World War II story involving Portuguese smugglers and opportunists who play a murderous cat-and-mouse game with Germany's SS Nazis. The two stories are seemingly unconnected for quite a loooooooong time.

Inspector Zé Coelho (José Afonso Coelho)
Ed O'farrell
May 28, 2012 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
Althea Ann
Nov 24, 2011 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 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
Nov 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
3.5 stars. This is a dual timeline story and a weaving of a web. It opens with a murder of a teenage girl in the late 199o's , an investigation is begun and it is assigned to Ze Coehlo and his new partner Carlos. Coehlo, we discover is a truth-seeker, and there is a beautiful description of his thoughts about human deception and his work at seeking the truth. I like Coehlo. He is a gut instinct player, yet has some very insightful reflections.

The other timeline begins during WWII and slowly inch
Tom Vater
Mar 31, 2013 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
Ian Mapp
Jul 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Two books for the price of 1 here - and not the fact that its in two parts.

We start in the WWII, with a German Businessman in Berlin who is forced to use his language/business skills to join the SS and arrange for the export of Tungsten (a core component in canon shells) from neutral Portugal, who are also doing business with the British.

After a couple of chapters of this - we move to the late 90s - and a police procedural told from the detectives perspective, after a young girl is found murdere
Aug 08, 2013 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
May 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 30, 2010 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.
Denise Hartman
Oct 28, 2012 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.
One of the main factors in my buying this book was my Portugalphilia. I've forgotten what it was all about and I can't find my book, but I remembered it was an enjoyable (albeit a tad too long?) read.
Rita Costa (Lusitania Geek)
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Due to amount of uni study, it took time to finish, also the number the pages did contribute to take awhile reading. I really loved it reading, easy to read and isvalways good the author choose major part of the story in my country. yay ! I recommend it, its a classic in my opinion. :-)
Avid Series Reader
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
Aug 15, 2013 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 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
May 26, 2014 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.
Jul 20, 2013 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.
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“We are all mad, Inspector, for the simple reason that we don’t know why we exist and this...this life is how we distract ourselves so that we don’t have to think about things too difficult for us to comprehend”.

That quote (from the book) pretty much sums up how I felt about the book. The first half of the book was relatively easy to follow. It was interesting to read about the Nazis and the Allies vying for the tungsten steel of Portugal during WWII. But the second half where the more current
Blake Johnson
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
"I know how it's been. But it's over now. You can go to sleep. A long deep sleep."

I killed someone in Lisbon today. Maybe several people. I've never been to Lisbon, and I tried to mitigate the damage with my clocks bookmark. But I have an ethical question- what is less moral? To kill one anonymous person who doesn't deserve to die, or to kill many people who are all anonymous? What is the value of a human life, in comparison to a handful of them? How years in the taco will a man get for murderin
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-mysteries
As a huge Robert Wilson fan, I was disappointed with this one. (I realize it’s his most popular title, to date!) I thought the plot was overly-complex, was weirdly filled with sex scenes, and was way too long. I couldn’t keep the characters apart in my head and I felt like the whole book came together in the last 3 pages. But it lacked all of the intense character development that made the Javier Falcon series so great.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to stop reading this book. I was 52% through it, and that was really forcing myself to read it, and decided it wasn’t worth torturing myself any longer. I do NOT recommend.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not my cup of tea at all. I read it all but then wondered why I had wasted my time.
José Herculano Paulo
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extremely enjoyable read.
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
Apr 05, 2015 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
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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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

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