Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

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Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An elegant blend of fact and fiction about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and the period when Hitler was tring to bring Franco and Spain into WWII on the side of the Nazis. A complex and rewarding thriller.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 564 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0330411981

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Despite being injured at Dunkirk Harry Brett was still willing to do his bit for his country. The deafness from the bomb which killed the man standing next to him on the beach - and the resulting panic attacks had begun to recede and he was willing, if not keen, to go to Spain to do some work for the sneaky beakies. He wasn't a spy by nature or inclination but he was one of the few people who might be able to make contact with - and report back on - Sandy Forsyth who'd been at his public school. There's another old Rookwoodian who's left some history in Madrid. Bernie Piper went to Spain to fight for the International Brigades in the Civil War and was thought to have been killed at Jarama but his body had never been found. The school is not the only link though. Barbara Clare was Bernie's girlfriend - she was a Red Cross nurse - and now she was living with Sandy Forsyth.

Sometimes even a busy reviewer needs to take a break and read something just for the pleasure of it. I've long been a fan of C J Sansom - I'm a big fan of the Shardlake novels - and I was determined that I would read Winter in Madrid, his stand alone novel about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Christmas was too good an opportunity to miss.

It's not a period about which I knew a great deal. The time is that uneasy period when the Spanish Civil War was over but there'd been nothing in the way of recovery. So far as the Second World War was going, Spain was officially neutral but Hitler was trying to push Franco into joining the Nazis. Great Britain was blockading the ports and allowing nothing through which Spain couldn't pay for - or might pass on to the Nazis. It was a balancing act in the middle of which sat the British Ambassador - the vain and self-serving Sir Samuel Hoare.

The story is an elegant blend of fact and fiction with history only being slightly adjusted on a few occasions. Most of the background events in the story really did take place and pretty much as stated. It's a tale of impossible choices to be taken in dreadful circumstances and towards the end I was torn between turning the pages as quickly as possible and dreading finding out what would happen. And I certainly didn't expect the final twist in the tail!

I read the book over about three days and it was excellent.

The seminal work in English about the Spanish Civil War is Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. In fiction we also enjoyed The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst.

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