Review: Winter in Madrid

Posted 4 August, 2009 by Li in Books / 1 Comment

Winter in Madrid
By: C.J. Sansom

The Spanish Civil War is over and Madrid lies ruined, its people starving, while the Germans continue their relentless march through Europe. Britain now stands alone while General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war. Harry Brett, a traumatised veteran of Dunkirk turned reluctant spy for the British Secret Service, has been sent to gain the confidence of old schoolfriend Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman. Harry finds himself involved in a dangerous game and surrounded by memories. Meanwhile Sandys girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own to find her former lover Bernie Pipera passionate Communist in the International Brigadeswho vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama. In a vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain, Winter in Madrid is an intimate and compelling tale which offers a remarkable sense of history unfolding, and the profound impact of impossible choices.

I came across this book while trying out a new website for book recommendations (What Should I Read Next?); I typed in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This book was either the first or second recommendation from the list. I looked it up on Indigo and Amazon; the premise sounded really interesting and since my TBR list was getting smaller and smaller by the day, I decided to pick it up next. I’m glad I did 🙂

Sansom did a wonderful job of describing Madrid and the state of Spain in the 1940s; you get a sense of how radically the country has changed through the eyes of Harry and Bernie. You also feel for what the inhabitants are feeling through the ordeals of Sofia and her family. The recreation was tremendous—you really feel as though you were transported to 1940s Madrid with the genuine fear that Franco will enter the second world war.

The characters that populate the story are also very interesting, each representing a distinct position and outlook in life. You have Sandy who’s out for the money and power and who has some serious issues with authority and family. There’s Bernie with the working class background who becomes a staunch Marxist and Communist and goes off to join the Civil War. Then there’s Harry who pretty much represent the everyday man; while Bernie and Sandy have very distinct perspectives that they represent, Harry’s the guy who just wants the quiet life, the status quo, the moderate (I found myself rooting for him all through the book precisely because he’s not as extreme as the others). There’s Barbara, the nurse who works abroad to avoid staying home and facing her more depressive thoughts. How they all come together in this story was extraordinary to read as you come to learn of their pasts, the nature of their relationships and how strong those friendships and relationships are.

I also have to agree with the blurb at the back of the book that described Winter in Madrid is a lot of things in one: a spy thriller, a romance, a historical drama. The pacing is good as you really see the development of not only the plot but of the relationships and interactions amongst the characters. The pace picks up by the third part, when all the planning comes together and rolls off to the finish line.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re into thrillers, romance, historical fiction and/or drama. This book had be captivated from the first page—couldn’t put it down once I started it! =D

Rating: ★★★★★

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