Mario Vega is seven years old and his life is about to change forever. Across the street in an exclusive suburb of Seville his father lies dead on the kitchen floor and his mother has been suffocated under her own pillow. It appears to be a suicide pact, but Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his doubts when he finds an enigmatic note crushed in the dead man's hand.
In the brutal summer heat Falcón starts to dismantle the obscure life of Rafael Vega only to receive threats from the Russian mafia who have begun operating in the city. His investigation into Vega's neighbours uncovers a creative American couple with a destructive past and the misery of a famous actor whose only son is in prison for an appalling crime.
Within days two further suicides follow – one of them a senior policeman – and a forest fire rages through the hills above Seville obliterating all in its path. Falcón must now sweat out the truth, which will reveal that everything is connected and there is one more secret in the black heart of Vega's life.
The real star of this gripping and beautifully written mystery which won the British Crime Writers' Golden Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel last year is Portugal, whose history and people come to life on every page. Wilson tells two stories: the investigation into the brutal sex murder of a 15-year-girl in 1998, and the tangled, bloody saga of a financial enterprise that begins with the Nazis in 1941. Although the two stories seem unrelated, both are so strong and full of fascinating characters that readers' attention and their faith that they will eventually be connected should never waver. The author creates three compelling protagonists: middle-aged detective Jose Coelho, better known as Ze; Ze's late British wife, whom he met while exiled in London with his military officer father during the anti-Salazar political uprisings of the 1970s; and Ze's wise, talented and sexually active 16-year-old daughter. The first part of the WWII story focuses on an ambitious, rough-edged but likeable Swabian businessman, Klaus Felsen, convinced by the Gestapo to go to Portugal and seize the lion's share of that country's supply of tungsten, vital to the Nazi war effort. Later, we meet Manuel Abrantes, a much darker and more dangerous character, who turns out to be the main link between the past and the present. As Ze sifts through the sordid circumstances surrounding the murder of the promiscuous daughter of a powerful, vindictive lawyer, Wilson shines a harsh light on contemporary Portuguese society. Then, in alternating chapters, he shows how and why that society developed. All this and a suspenseful mystery who could ask for more?