Mary's Library

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Not-Trollope Book of the Week

My Not-Trollope group has decided that each member should post a Book of the Week. Here's mine for this week:

Our friend, Chris, has invited Wilhelm and me to visit her in Madrid, so I’ve started to read about Spain. I went looking in the Spokane Public Library for some classic Spanish literature, but alas, all I could find in the classic genre was DON QUIXOTE. I did get 103 hits when I searched for “Spain – fiction,” however.

The book I chose to read is DEATH OF A NATIONALIST (2003), the first in a series of mysteries by Rebecca Pawel. The novel takes place in post-civil-war Madrid. The detective, Sergeant Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon, from a wealthy and powerful old family, is a member of the Guardia Civil, Franco’s police force.

From the Publisher’s Weekly review: “The immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War provides the bleak setting for Pawel's stirring first novel. Madrid in 1939 is filled with bomb craters, desecrated churches and nearly abandoned streets, while black markets are just about the only markets with anything to sell. The hatreds and atrocities shared by the Nationalists (supported by the fascists) and the Republicans (supported by the Communists) still simmer and erupt in sporadic violence.”

That history informs this immediate post-war period when torturing a suspect or shooting him on the spot was routine police policy. Tejada is searching for the murderer of a policeman, an old and very close friend, a Nationalist alongside whom he fought in the war.

His investigation leads him to Madrid’s black market. Gonzalo Llorente, a Republican who is in hiding, is more interested in finding his fiancée’s killer than in saving his own life. His search for that killer and his attempt to escape from Spain leads him, too, to the black market.

Tejada “must follow a tortuous path to find the real killer and, ultimately, redemption . . . Pawel is unsparing in her depiction of the casual brutalities spawned by the war, but also offers evidence of the power of little civilities and kindnesses in a novel that easily transcends the formulaic crime story.”


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