A new challenge: Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a new challenge taking us on a 12 stage European Journey in Eurail Pass style. As our travel agent she has chosen 12 destinations for our journey. It began last Monday with with a stop in England. Click HERE for additional details.
The challenge is simple really.
You have to connect us to a blog post on your site that relates to crime fiction in the country we are visiting. The meme will enable us to share our knowledge and perhaps point out new reading opportunities to each other.
You can choose one of the following (or something more imaginative)
- a book review (create a new one or revive an old one)
- an author profile
- a reading syllabus for crime fiction either set in this country, or written by authors from this country.
I don’t think I’ll be taking part every week, but for this week I’m in Spain, featuring C J Sansom’s Winter in Madrid, which I thought was one of the best books I’ve read. I wrote about on this blog back in January 2008, describing it as a book that had me in tears as I was reading about the devastation, desolation and waste of war. I little thought that a few years later we would be witnessing the devastation that has been happening here in England with the terrible riots that have been taking place this week.
Back to the book. I already knew from reading his 16th century crime thrillers that C. J. Sansom is a master storyteller and this book exceeded my expectations. It is an action packed thrilling war/spy story and also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel.
Sansom vividly conveys the horror and fear of the realities of life in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and the first two years of the Second World War. The opening chapter dramatically sets the tone for the book with the brutality of the Battle of Jarama in 1937 then leaps straight into the bombing of London in 1940. Then Harry Brett, traumatised by his injuries at Dunkirk is sent to Spain to spy for the British Secret Service. He is plunged into the terrible living conditions in Madrid where people are starving, children are left homeless to fend for themselves and wild dogs roam the rubble of bombed houses.
He turned into a square. Two sides had been shelled into rubble, all the houses down, a chaos of broken walls rising from a sea of shattered bricks and sodden rags of bedding. Weeds had grown up between the stones, tall scabrous dark-green things. Square holes in the ground half filled with green scummy water marked where cellars had stood. The square was deserted and the houses that had been left standing looking derelict, their windows all broken.
Harry had never seen such destruction on such a scale; the bombsites in London were small by comparison. He stepped closer, looking over the devastation. The square must have been intensively shelled. Everyday there was news of more raids on London ‘“ did England look like this now?
This is a long and detailed book, but it moves along rapidly, with believable characters, including the bullying Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare, Alan Hillgarth, the chief of intelligence (both of whom are real historical figures), diplomats, Spanish Monarchists and Falangists and the ordinary Spanish people. Franco’s Madrid is shown as a place where fear, poverty and corruption stalk the streets; where hatred and suffering are paramount. It’s a chilling picture, but Harry finds love too when he meets Sofia and plans her escape with him to England after he has completed his mission.
The question is will Franco maintain Spain’s neutrality and enter the war in support of Hitler? Harry’s cover is as an interpreter, whilst his mission is to make contact with Sandy Forsyth, who he had known at public school in England, gain his confidence and discover the truth behind the rumour that gold deposits have been discovered in Spain, which would boost the economy making Spain less reliant on British support. Harry, a reluctant spy, soon finds himself in danger. He is plagued by memories of another school friend Bernie Piper, an ardent Communist who had enlisted in the International Brigades and had disappeared, reported killed at the Battle of Jarama. Barbara, an ex- Red Cross nurse, now Sandy’s girlfriend and Bernie’s former lover is convinced Bernie was not killed She appeals to Harry for help in finding Bernie, and so the story moves to its climax.
With its haunting themes of corruption, murder, the power of authority and heroism Winter In Madrid captivated my imagination. It’s a book I’d like to reread some time.