Called to a gruesome crime scene, Inspector Javier Falcón is shocked and sickened by what he finds. Littered like flower petals on the victim's shirt are the man's own eyelids, evidence of a heinous crime with no obvious motive. When the investigation leads him to read his late father's journals, he discovers a disturbing and sordid past. Meanwhile, more victims are falling. While Falcón struggles to solve the case, he finds the missing section of his father's journal-and becomes the murderer's next intended victim.
Combining suspenseful storytelling with a thoughtful exploration of the human psyche, The Blind Man of Seville confirms bestselling and award-winning author Robert Wilson as one of the greatest literary mystery writers working today.
About the Author
ROBERT WILSON is the author of numerous novels, including The Company of Strangers and A Small Death in Lisbon, which won the Gold Dagger Award as Best Crime Novel of the Year from Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked in shipping, advertising, and trading in Africa, and has lived in Greece, Portugal, and West Africa.
Read an Excerpt
Thursday, 12th April 2001, Edificio Presidente, Los Remedios, Seville
It had started the moment he'd walked into that room and had seen that face.
The call had come at 8.15 a.m. just as he was preparing to leave home — one dead body, suspected murder and the address.
Semana Santa. It was only right that there should be at least one murder in Holy Week; not that it would have any effect on the crowds of people following the daily convergence of quivering Holy Virgins on board their floats en route to the cathedral.
He eased his car out of the massive house that had belonged to his father on Calle Bailén. The tyres rattled on the cobbles of the empty, narrow streets. The city, reluctant to wake up at any time of year, was especially silent at this hour during Semana Santa. He entered the square in front of the Museo de Bellas Artes. The whitewashed houses, framed in ochre were silent behind the high palms, the two colossal rubber trees and the tall jacarandas, which had not yet flowered. He opened his window to the morning still fresh from last night's dew and drove down to the Guadalquivir River and the avenue of trees along the Paseo de Cristóbal Colón. He thought he might be approaching contentment as he passed by the red doors of the Puerta del Príncipe in the baroque façade of the Plaza de Toros, La Maestranza, which was about to see the first bullfights in the week leading up to the Feria de Abril.
This was as close as he got to happiness these days and it held firm as he turned right after the Torre del Oro and, leaving the old part of the city behind, crossed the river, which was misty in the early-morning sunshine. At the Plaza de Cuba he veered away from his regular route to work and headed down Calle de Asunción. Later he would try to recapture these moments because they were the last of what he'd thought, until then, had been a quite satisfactory life.
The new and very young Juez de Guardia, the duty judge, who'd been waiting for him in the pristine, white-marbled entrance hall of Raúl Jiménez's large and expensive apartment on the sixth floor of the Edificio Presidente, did try to warn him. He remembered that.
'Prepare yourself, Inspector Jefe,' he'd said.
'For what?' Falcón had asked.
In the embarrassed silence that followed, Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón had minutely scrutinized the surface detail of the Juez de Guardia's suit, which he decided was either Italian or a leading Spanish designer, someone like Adolfo Domínguez, perhaps. Expensive for a young judge like Esteban Calderón, thirty-six years old and barely a year in the job.
Falcón's apparent lack of interest decided Calderón that he didn't want to appear naïve in front of the forty-five-year-old Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de Sevilla, who'd spent more than twenty years looking at murdered people in Barcelona, Zaragoza, Madrid and now Seville.
'You'll see,' he said, with a nervous shrug of his shoulder.
'Shall I proceed then?' asked Falcón, maintaining proper procedure with a judge he'd never worked with before.
Calderón nodded and told him that the Policía Científica had just been let into the building and that he could go ahead with his initial observations of the scene.
Falcón walked down the corridor leading from the entrance hall to Raúl Jiménez's study thinking about preparing himself without knowing how it was done. He stopped at the door to the living room, frowned. The room was empty. He turned to Calderón who had his back to him now, dictating something to the Secretaria del Juez while the Médico Forense listened in. Falcón looked into the dining room and found that empty, too.
'Were they moving out?' he asked.
'Claro, Inspector Jefe,' said Calderón, 'the only furniture left in the apartment is a bed in one of the kids' rooms and Sr Jiménez's complete study.'
'Does that mean Sra Jiménez is already in the new house with the children?'
'We're not sure.'
'My number two, Inspector Ramírez, should be here in a few minutes. Send him straight through to me.'
Falcón proceeded to the end of the corridor, suddenly conscious of each footstep on the polished parquet flooring in the empty apartment. His eyes were fixed on a hook on the bare wall at the end of the corridor under which was a square lighter than its surrounds, where a picture or mirror had been hanging.
He eased his hands into a pair of surgical gloves, snapped the cuffs against his wrists and flexed his fingers. He turned into the study, looked up from his cloudy latex palms to find Raúl Jiménez's terrible face staring at him.
And that was when it had started.
It wasn't a question of looking back at that moment and realizing later that it had been a turning point. The change was not subtle. A difference in body chemistry has a way of making itself immediately felt. Sweat came up inside his gloves and at a spot high on his forehead just out of the hairline. The taut pattering of his heart stopped him and he began to find oxygen in the air difficult to come by. He hyperventilated for some seconds, pinched at his throat to try to encourage a better intake. His body was telling him that there was something to fear while his brain was indicating otherwise.
His brain was making the usual dispassionate observations. Raúl Jiménez's feet were bare, his ankles secured to the chair legs. Some furniture was out of place, at odds with the rest of the room. Indentations in the expensive rug, Persian, showed the normal position of the chair. The lead to the TV/video was stretched taut because the rolling cabinet was some metres from its normal position by the wall socket in the corner. A ball of cloth, which looked like socks tracked with saliva and blood, lay on the floor by the desk. Windows, dou-bleglazed, were shut, curtains drawn back. A large soapstone ashtray sat on the desk, full of pinched stubs and whole, clean filters which had been broken off from the cigarettes whose pack lay alongside, brand name Celtas. Cheap cigarettes. The cheapest. Only the cheapest for Raúl Jiménez, owner of four of the most popular restaurants in Seville, with two others in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto Santa María down on the coast. Only the cheapest for Raúl Jiménez in his ninety-million-pesetas apartment in Los Remedios, overlooking the Feria ground, with his celebrity photographs hanging on the wall behind his leather-inlaid desk. Raúl with the torero El Cordobés. Raúl with the TV presenter Ana Rosa Quintana. Raúl, my God, Raúl with a carving knife behind A jamón which had to be a top quality Pata Negra because he was flanked by Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, who was looking completely appalled at the cloven hoof pointing at her right breast.
Still the sweat didn't stop but appeared elsewhere. Top lip, small of the back, trickling down to his waist from his armpit. He knew what he was doing. He was pretending, persuading himself that it was hot in the room, that the coffee he'd just taken ... He hadn't had any coffee.
For a dead man it was a face with presence. Like El Greco's saints whose eyes never left you alone.
Were they following him?
Falcón moved to one side. Yes. Then the other. Absurd. The tricks of the mind. He pulled himself together, clenched a latex fist.
He stepped over the taut lead from the wall to the TV/video and went behind the dead man's chair. He looked up to the ceiling and let his eyes fall on to Raúl Jiménez's wire-wool hair. The back of the head was matted thick, black and red, from where he'd rammed his head repeatedly against the carved coat of arms on the chair back. The head was still secured to the chair with flex. Originally it must have been tight but Jiménez had gained some slack through his struggle. The flex had cut deeply into the flesh beneath his nose and had ridden up until it had bitten into the cartilaginous material of the septum and it had even sawn through that to reach the bone of the bridge. The nose was hanging off his face. The flex had also cut into the flesh over his cheekbones as he'd thrown his head from side to side.
Falcón turned away from the profile only to see the full frontal in the blank TV screen. He blinked, wanting to close those staring eyes, which, even in reflection, penetrated. His stomach leapt at the thought of the horror images that had forced a man to do this to himself. Were they still there, burned on to the retina, or further back in the brain in some cubist digitalized state?
He shook his head, unused to these wild thoughts interfering with his investigative coolness. He moved around to confront the gory face, not quite full on because the TV/video cabinet was up against the man's knees, and, at this moment, Javier Falcón came up against his first physical failing. His legs would not bend. None of the usual motor messages could get beyond the roiling panic in his chest and stomach. He did what the Juez de Guardia had advised and looked out of the window. He noted the brightness of the April morning, remembered that restlessness as he'd got dressed in the shuttered dark, the uneasiness left after a long, lonely winter with too much rain. So much rain that even he had noticed how the city's gardens had burgeoned to the density of jungle, to the richness of an abundant botanical exhibit. He looked down on the Feria ground, which two weeks from now would be transformed into a tented Seville crowded with casetas, marquees, for the week-long session of eating, drinking fino and dancing Sevillanas until dawn. He breathed in deeply and lowered himself to meet Raúl Jiménez's face.
The terrible staring effect was produced by the man's eyeballs bulging out of his head as if he had a thyroid problem. Falcón glanced up at the photos. Jiménez was not bug-eyed in any of them. This was caused by ... His synapses shunted like cars crunching into each other nose to tail. The visible ball of the eye. The blood down the face. The coagulation on the jaw line. And these? What are these delicate things on his shirtfront? Petals. Four of them. But rich, exotic, fleshy as orchids with these fine filaments, just like fly-catchers. But petals ... here?
He reeled backwards, his feet kicking at the rug edge and the parquet flooring as he fell over the television lead, yanking the plug out of the wall socket. He crabbed on the heels of his hands and feet until he hit the wall and sat legs splayed, thighs twitching, shoes nodding.
Eyelids. Two top. Two bottom. Nothing could have prepared him for that.
'Are you all right, Inspector Jefe?'
'Is that you, Inspector Ramírez?' he asked, getting up slowly, messily.
'The Policía Científica are ready to move in.'
'Send the Médico Forense down here.'
Ramírez slipped out of the doorframe. Falcón shook himself down. The Médico Forense appeared.
'Did you see that this man had had his eyelids cu — his eyelids removed?'
'Claro, Inspector Jefe. The Juez de Guardia and I had to satisfy ourselves that the man was dead. I saw that the man's eyelids had been removed and ... it's all in my notes. The secretaria has noted it, too. It's hardly something you'd miss.'
'No, no, I didn't doubt that ... I was just surprised that it wasn't mentioned to me.'
'I think Juez Calderón was about to tell you, but ...'
The bald head of the Médico Forense rolled on his shoulders.
'But what ...?'
'I think he was in awe of your experience in these matters.'
'Do you have any opinion about the cause and time of death?' asked Falcón.
'The time, about four, four-thirty this morning. The cause, well, vamos a ver, the man was over seventy years old, he had been overweight, he was a heavy smoker of cigarettes which he preferred with the filter removed and, as a restaurateur, someone who enjoyed a glass of wine or two. Even a young and fit man might have found it difficult to sustain these injuries, that physical and mental distress, without going into deep shock. He died of heart failure, I'm sure of it. The autopsy will confirm that ... or not.'
The Médico Forense finished, flustered by the steadiness of Falcón's look and annoyed by his own idiocy at the end. He left the frame, which was instantly reoccupied by Calderón and Ramírez.
'Let's get started,' said Calderón.
'Who called the emergency services?' asked Falcón.
'The conserje,' said Calderón. The concierge. 'After the maid had ...'
'After the maid had let herself in, seen the body, ran out of the apartment, and taken the lift back down to the ground floor ...?'
'... and hammered hysterically on the door of the conserje's flat,' finished Calderón, irritated by Falcón cutting in. 'It took him some minutes to get any sense out of her and then he called 091.'
'Did the conserje come up here?'
'Not until the first patrol car arrived and sealed off the crime scene.'
'Was the door open?'
'And the maid ... now?'
'Under sedation in the Hospital de la Virgen de la Macarena.'
'Inspector Ramírez ...'
'Yes, Inspector Jefe ...'
All exchanges between Falcón and Ramírez started like this. It was his way of reminding the Inspector Jefe that Falcón had moved down from Madrid and stolen the job that Ramírez had always assumed would be his.
'Ask Sub-Inspector Pérez to go down to the hospital and as soon as the maid ... Does she have a name?'
'As soon as she is sensible ... he should ask her if she noticed anything strange ... Well, you know the questions. And ask her how many times she turned the key in the lock to open the door and what exactly were her movements before she found the body.'
Ramírez repeated this back to him.
'Have we found Sra Jiménez and the children yet?' asked Falcón.
'We think they're in the Hotel Colón.'
'On Calle Bailén?' asked Falcón, the five-star hotel where all the toreros stayed, only fifty metres from his own ... from his late father's house — a coincidence without being one.
'A car has been sent,' said Calderón. 'I'd like to complete the levantamiento del cadaver as soon as possible and get the body down to the Instituto Anatómico Forense before we bring Sra Jiménez up here.'
Falcón nodded. Calderón left them to it. The two Policía Científica, Felipe in his mid fifties and Jorge in his late twenties, moved in murmuring buenos días. Falcón stared at the TV plug lying on the floor and decided not to mention it. They photographed the room and, between them, began to put together a scenario, while Jorge took Jiménez's fingerprints and Felipe dusted the TV/video cabinet and the two empty slipcases on top. They agreed on its normal position and the fact that Jiménez would usually have been watching it from a leather scoop chair whose swivel base when lifted revealed a circular mark on the parquet. The killer had incapacitated Jiménez, swivelled the leather chair, which was unsuitable for his purposes, and moved one of the high-backed guest chairs so that he could shift the body in one turning movement. The killer had then secured the wrists to the arms of the chair, stripped the socks off the feet, stuffed them in Jiménez's mouth and secured the ankles. He then manoeuvred the chair by pivoting it on its legs until he achieved the ideal position.
'His shoes are under here,' said Jorge, nodding to the footwell of the desk. 'One pair of ox-blood loafers with tassels.'
Falcón pointed to a well-worn patch on the parquet in front of the leather scoop. 'He liked to kick off his shoes and sit in front of the TV rubbing his feet on the wooden floor.'
'While he watched dirty movies,' said Felipe, dusting one of the slipcases. 'This one's called Cara o Culo.' Face or Arse I.
'The position of the chair?' asked Jorge. 'Why move all this furniture around?'
Javier Falcón walked to the door, turned and held his arms open to the forensics.
'A real showman,' said Felipe, nodding. 'This other slipcase has La Familia Jiménez written on it in red felt-tip and there's a cassette in the machine with the same title, same handwriting.'
'That doesn't sound too horrific,' said Falcón, and they all looked at Raúl Jiménez's blood-streaked terror before going back to their work.
'He didn't enjoy the show,' said Felipe.
'You shouldn't watch if you can't take it,' said Jorge from under the desk.
'I've never liked horror,' said Falcón.
'Me neither,' said Jorge. 'I can't take all that ... that ...'
'That what?' asked Falcón, surprised to find himself interested.
'I don't know ... the normality, the portentous normality.'
'We all need a little fear to keep us going,' said Falcón, looking down his red tie, the sweat tumbling out of his forehead again.
Excerpted from "The Blind Man of Seville"
Copyright © 2003 Robert Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is really outstanding. I loved the intricate plot, the complexe relationships and the shocking ending. The psychological aspect is very deep and involving. I literally devoured it in a weekend.
I could not stop reading this book! Daisy
i loved the plot, the stories, the language: makes you want to read everything he has written and will write.
This is a book filled with intrigue and mystery. It keeps you coming back everytime you put it down. The way he (Wilson)combines the past with the present is outstanding.
I read this on holiday in Dubai, but the dark tone of the novel and the spot-on descriptions of what it can be like suffering from extreme stress didn't really fit the surroundings! Some of the passages about anxiety I almost felt I could have written myself, although here they are experienced by the main detective as he unravels a case and his own past with it. The only problem I have with these books is that sometimes the murders are just too fanciful and convoluted, and this was no exception. It takes the book into the realms of fantasy, and this was a shame because the characters themselves were intensely human and well drawn. Couldn't we just have a plain family murder somehow affecting the emotions of a troubled detective? Still, saying that, Robert Wilson goes down as an author who I would like to read at least one book a year from.
I'm not an expert in crime thrillers, and was actually attracted to this book by its locations (having just spent time in Seville, and finished a book about the Spanish civil war). I found it to be fairly engaging, but not enough to really recommend.
Very good read
As someone unfamiliar with Spanish, I found this extremely difficut to read with the MANY spanish, names, words, and phrases. Annoying to go from that to English all in the same sentence, I only got through a few pages of this book.