Dorothy's Reviews > Winter in Madrid

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
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Nov 02, 09

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in October, 2009

I finished this book while I was on vacation last week. I found myself reluctant to read the last three chapters, because I just knew things were not going to end well for some of the characters in whom I had invested empathy. It turned out I was correct, but not altogether in the way I had anticipated.

The World War II period, which is the time frame of the book, is really not my favorite period of history to read about. Perhaps it is because my father was a veteran of that "good war" and I grew up on stories of George Patton's Third Army, the Battle of the Bulge, and the conflict as fought in Europe. Not that the whole period isn't totally fascinating, but I think that by the time I grew up and left home, I had totally overdosed on it.

This novel is set in Spain (obviously) and actually has its beginnings in the Spanish Civil War. It follows the lives of three public school mates from England. They were not all friends, but two of the mates were each friends with the central character in the story, Harry.

Harry is injured in the Dunkirk retreat and, afterward, is recruited as a spy to go to Spain and gain intelligence about one of his public school friends who is now a successful businessman there. This businessman, Sandy, has hooked up with the lover of the other public school mate, Bernie, who is now believed to be dead, killed in the Civil War where he fought as a Communist.

The plot is an intricate one and is somewhat slow in developing, but I found that I quite liked Harry. He was a bit of a bumbler and an innocent and I guess I can empathize with that. He was also rather hopeless as a spy, which is a disappointment to that school of readers who expects every spy to be of the James Bond variety. Harry would be more at home in a Le Carre novel, a more realistic picture of what spying is really like.

In the course of his assignment, Harry meets and falls in love with a Spanish woman, Sofia. Through his relationship with her, we learn more of what life was actually like for the average Spaniard during this time. It is not a pretty picture.

I won't go into all the plot twists in case you want to read the book. It is a good book, I think, primarily because Sansom is a meticulous researcher of the periods about which he writes. I would certainly recommend it to those readers who are interested in historical fiction about this period. On the whole, I have to say I prefer Sansom's Tudor period series featuring Matthew Shardlake and I look forward to the next entry in that series.
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Reading Progress

10/18/2009 page 23
4.19% "In just the first few pages, Sansom draws the reader in to the times and the "feel" of those times that he is writing about."
10/20/2009 page 71
12.93% "The scenes of Madrid during early WWII are very affecting. They certainly give the reader a sense that she is there."
10/21/2009 page 109
19.85% ""The old woman gathered the children and stood trembling as her daughter was led away, sagging between the civiles." Madrid, 1940"
10/22/2009 page 162
29.51% "Is Bernie, the Communist, dead or still a prisoner? Is Sandy collaborating with Franco? Will Harry be able to complete his mission?"

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