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Winter In Madrid (book review)

March 29, 2009

Winter in Madrid
CJ Sansom
Penguin
January 2007
$15.00
544 pages

Continuing the list of books I read on vacation

A slowly evolving tale of espionage and shifting loyalties, spanning World War I, the Spanish Civil War and the start of World War II, “Winter in Madrid” is a detailed story of betrayal, bringing together the personal and the political with a keen sense of place.

“Winter in Madrid” tells the story of three friends from an exclusive British boys’ school, whose lives intersect, years later, in Franco’s Spain.  Idealistic Bernie has come to fight for his Communist beliefs.  Calculating, manipulative Sandy is there for business, looking to make money off the chaos.  Harry remembers both from his school days, and has returned to a Madrid he remembers from happier, boyhood travels.  A reluctant spy, Harry is still raw with shell shock from Dunkirk, and unhappy to rekindle his friendship with Sandy under false pretenses.  The British government wants reports of Sandy’s business dealings, and has sent Harry to exploit his childhood friendship.

The novel shifts slowly backward and forward in time, delicately probing the connections between former school friends, and to Barbara Clare, a British Red Cross nurse, whose service in war-torn Spain links her to all three men.  Shifting perspectives, both in point of view and time frame make it hard to track the narrative’s progress.  Characters, even those supposedly loyal to each other or the same cause, seem to dance awkwardly around one another, wary even of those they supposedly trust.  The shifting time frame makes it difficult to follow how characters are relating to each other and how characters and their motives evolve and mature over time.

One possibility is that the characters aren’t growing or changing, but staying static in their motives and reactions, as events unfold around them.  Sandy, in particular,  seems shockingly malicious.  Glimpses of his school days barely hint at what could have made him so cold and manipulative.   Cruel to his lover, Barbara, and duplicitous in business dealings with Harry, Sandy seems poised as a cipher of the creepy bad guy.  His calculating nature resists any emotional connection, sketched in a little sociopathic, and all the more chilling in his static portrayal of evil.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 4, 2009 5:58 am

    Sorry I’m late with this one, but I’ve posted it here here on War Through the Generations.

    –Anna

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