About the Book: September 1940: the Spanish Civil War is over, Madrid lies in ruin, while the Germans continue their march through Europe, and General Franco evades Hitler’s request that he lead his broken country into yet another war. Into this uncertain world comes a reluctant spy for the British Secret Service, sent to gain the confidence of Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend turned shady Madrid businessman. Meanwhile, an ex-Red Cross nurse is engaged in a secret mission of her own. Through this dangerous game of intrigue, C. J. Sansom’s riveting tale conjures a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.
My Review: This book is unlike most of the historical fiction I read. The setting is utterly depressing, but still brought sharply to life through the many events that take place throughout the course of the book. I could just feel the desperation of Spain during this time period, (and at one point jokingly told my mom, "the book I'm reading makes me want to kill myself." To which she replied, "I think it's time to put that book down") I didn't want to put the book down, though, because I genuinely cared about the fate of the characters and even though the place I was transported to through the pages wasn't happy, I was still learning and learning a lot. I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath before reading this book, and in a haunting eerie way, I was reminded of how we are never that far away from that sort of hopelessness and poverty. With our own economy going steadily down the toilet, I sometimes wonder just how fragile our peace really is.
We begin the story with Harry, the main character taking a spy position in Spain. He's not your typical spy, but agrees to the post and we are often treated to the conflict he experiences and his grief for Spain. As his story slowly unfolds, the other characters rise to the surface and their stories are told as well. In fact, the plotting itself in the book is something to be savored as it gently unravels.
The pacing isn't exactly brisk, but I was never bored. And while the book comes in at 530 pages, it was 530 pages necessary for the full impact of the story to be felt.
There are a couple of love stories in the book as well, though they don't receive too much attention.
I very much enjoyed this book and I'm glad that I read it. I hope to check out more of C.J. Sansom's books in the future, but I do caution that this is heavy reading. Even so, it is recommended. Purchase the book here.
Things You Might Want to Know: There's a wee bit of language, and a great deal of animosity towards the Catholic church. There's also some violence though nothing is unbearably graphic.