Posted by: istop4books | December 28, 2010


Many years ago, as a kid growing up in South America, I heard stories about the Spaniards who had emigrated, leaving their beloved Spain and starting over in Chile. The atrocities weren’t mentioned, but the hardships were. I wish I had paid better attention, I wish I had asked some questions.

Winter in Madrid is set during WWII, when Spain was under the rule of its new fascist dictator, Generalisimo Francisco Franco. Three old English school chums, Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth and Bernie Piper find themselves in Spain for different reasons, years after losing track of one another. Sandy, the black sheep and difficult one, is working in Spain on sketchy gold schemes; Harry is brought to Spain in the guise of a translator to spy on his old schoolmate Sandy, and is completely adverse to doing so, but at the same time honor bound. And then Bernie Piper – the communist who puts his money where his mouth is and leaves England to join the communist party and fight with the resistance against Franco. Interwoven to these characters’ plots, is the history of the factions all vying for power in Spain, the Brits trying to keep Spain out of the war; the Monarchists, Republicans, Falangists, Nationalists, Communists, Nazis, to name a few fighting to gain or regain control, and in the end – nobody won. The hunger, fear, lack of hope, the vileness of those in power or wanting power is captured through the pages of the book. Harry begins to learn what all his years of fancy British upper-crust schooling could never teach him – about the real lives affected so devastatingly by the ravages of wars.

I really enjoyed this thriller. It had enough twists and turns to keep me engaged. Here and there a bit long, but very good nevertheless.

One thing the book would benefit from would be a glossary of terms, as I was not familiar with all the different factions that played a huge part of the story.

Edited to add:  Much of this novel takes place in Madrid, in and around the Puerta del Sol.  I was there in 2002/2003; in fact my entire family was there for New Years Eve.  I wish I had read this book and even though the sense of locality was excellent throughout the narrative, I have racked my brain trying to remember the streets that Harry often frequented.  Cuenca, Sevilla and surrounding areas were also part of the landscape and while I was there, it never even occurred to me to check out the Civil War background of these areas.  I guess I’ll just have to go back!



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