Winter in Madrid
by C.J. Sansom
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Winter in Madrid is about three British citizens already scarred by their experiences of life and warfare when they come to Madrid.
Harry Brett, recuperating physically and psychologically from a horrific battlefield experience at Dunkirk, reluctantly accepts a Special Intelligence Service mission in Franco's Spain. An old school companion of his, the cynical and resentful Sandy Forsyth, is involved in a secretive business project which some believe could tip the balance toward an alliance between Spain and Nazi Germany. Barbara Clare, shattered by the loss three years earlier of her lover, reported missing and presumed dead after a chaotic battle between Republic forces and Franco's army, has become Sandy's mistress.
There is a grayness to Winter in Madrid: the characters are tired almost to exhaustion but driven onward by inner needs that lead them into ever greater uncertainty. Loyalty, honor, duty, love, the determination to survive and prove oneself: each of these qualities may be admirable in the abstract, but in the sticky complexity of Franco's Spain can draw one into complicity with acts of barbaric cruelty. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, frequently dipping into the past to explore the emotionally complicated web of ties among the characters, with revelations and complications steadily intensifying the pressures on them until the suspense at the end reaches fever pitch.
The Spain of 1940 is itself a character: "Outside the air was full of dust, a breeze lifting little whorls of it from the street. . . . A thin old woman in black crossed the square, a huge bag of clothes on her head supported by one hand. Harry wondered which side she had supported during the Civil War, or whether she had been one of the thousands without politics, caught in the middle. Her face was deeply lined, her expression tired but stoical; one of those who endured – somehow, only just." (2006, 535 pages including a Historical Note separating fact from fiction)
Winter in Madrid is one of five mysteries on my "Best Historical Novels
I Read in 2009" list.
More about Winter in Madrid from Powell's Books
Interview with C.J. Sansom
Other novels about the Spanish Civil War:
Guernica by Dave Boling (2008), about the experience of the Basque town of Guernica. See review or more info at Powell's Books
The Mule by Juan Eslava Galan (2003, first English edition 2008), about a muleteer's persistent efforts to protect his mule during the war. More info
A Rose for Ana Maria by Frank Yerby (1976), about a young revolutionary who teams up with the daughter of an aristocratic family to assassinate a Fascist official after the war. More info
Nonfiction about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath:
"The Children of Franco's Orphanages" by C.J. Sansom. Read article contributed by the author of Winter in Madrid.
The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan (1943), about the war's origins. More info
The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge by Paul Preston (2007), about the war. More info
Appeasement's Child: The Franco Regime in Spain by T. Hamilton (1943), about the war's aftermath. More info
The Masquerade in Spain by C. Foltz (1948), about the war's aftermath. More info
Wikipedia entry on the Spanish Civil War
Newsreel images from the Spanish Civil War at Blip TV
Back to Novels of the Spanish Civil War
Back to Directory of Book Reviews
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