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Winter in Madrid
C.J. Sansom
Historical Fiction
Best-selling British author C.J. Sansom has been awarded the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. Winter in Madrid is set just after the bloody Spanish Civil War,...
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Winter in Madrid

Author Notes

Christopher John "C.J." Sansom is a British writer of crime novels. He was born in 1952 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he earned a B. A. and a PhD in History. He practiced law, before quitting to work full-time as a writer. He currently lives in Sussex, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

The playing fields of Rookwood did little to prepare reluctant spy Harry Brett for the moral no man's land of post-Civil War Spain that awaits him in this cinematic historical thriller from British author Sansom (Sovereign). But those halcyon days have made him one of the few people likely to win the confidence of fellow old boy Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman, Franco associate and object of intense curiosity to British intelligence. Despite his reservations, Brett-whose best friend from Rookwood, Bernie Piper, disappeared in Spain a few years earlier while battling Franco with the International Brigade-accepts the assignment as his duty, and almost as swiftly regrets it. For the Madrid he finds has become a mockery of the vibrant, hopeful place he and Bernie visited during the dawn of the Republic. As in his Matthew Shardlake mystery series set in Tudor London, Sansom deftly plots his politically charged tale for maximal suspense, all the way up to its stunning conclusion. A bestseller in the U.K., this moving opus leaves the reader mourning for the Spain that might have been-and the England that maybe never was. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Guardian Review

Winter in Madrid certainly contains all the elements of an exciting romantic thriller, but CJ Sansom's real strength lies in an almost uncanny ability to create a sense of time and place. This is an unsentimental and utterly fascinating portrait of Spain in 1940. As war rages in Europe, starving citizens, traumatised feral children and packs of rabid dogs compete for food and shelter in the ruins of the once grand capital city. While General Franco considers whether to abandon his position of neutrality and join forces with Hitler, monarchists, falangists, communists, disillusioned public schoolboys and opportunists of all persuasions jockey for position in a lethal game where allegiances change overnight and nothing is what it seems. The heroism of the protagonists is touching and compelling, but doomed in the face of warring systems of ideology and authority, universal corruption and the pieties of the Catholic church. Sansom wears his research lightly and gets right under the skin of his characters. The result is a tense, literate page- turner, full of twists, authentic detail and real pathos: a superb achievement. Caption: article-o3.1 Winter in Madrid certainly contains all the elements of an exciting romantic thriller, but CJ Sansom's real strength lies in an almost uncanny ability to create a sense of time and place. This is an unsentimental and utterly fascinating portrait of Spain in 1940. - Laura Wilson .

Kirkus Review

The uneasy relationship of three British schoolmates haunts their adult lives during the first years of Francisco Franco's dark Spanish dictatorship in a novel from the author of the excellent Matthew Shardlake Tudor detective stories (Sovereign, 2007, etc.). Shell-shocked and deafened, Lt. Harry Brett was evacuated from Dunkirk moments after the man next to him was blown to pieces. Unable to return immediately to battle, he reluctantly accepts an undercover assignment to Spain, where he is to look up his public-school classmate Sandy Forsyth to see whether Sandy might be recruited as an intelligence source. Sandy was not really Harry's friend at Rookwood. He wasn't anyone's friend. The rebellious son of an Anglican bishop, Sandy was cynical and a bully, but Harry was as close to a friend as he had before getting kicked out for cruelty to a faculty member. Now he has turned up in Madrid, a sleek and prospering businessman, cutting deals with the Falangists and Monarchists who recently ousted the Republicans. It won't be Harry's first trip to Spain. He was there once before to see Bernie Piper, Harry's best friend from school and Sandy's arch enemy. To the great disappointment of his working-class parents, Bernie's scholarship to Rookwood gave him a deep distaste for the ruling class they hoped he would join, and he eventually turned to communism and joined the International Brigade defending Republican Spain against the Nationalists. When Harry, undercover as an embassy translator, reaches Madrid, he finds Sandy in possession of Barbara, a Red Cross nurse who loved Bernie before his disappearance and presumed death in the civil war. Harry takes up with the couple, worming his awkward way into Sandy's confidence. As Harry learns details of Sandy's sleazy high-level dealings, Barbara learns that Bernie is not dead. He's a secret government prisoner, and she immediately begins to plot his escape as Harry at last finds a little love. Wise and melancholy and, eventually, very tense. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

With Sovereign (2007), Sansom added the third installment to his greatly captivating historical mystery series featuring a lawyer-sleuth in Henry VIII's England. He now offers a completely enveloping novel set in early-1940s Spain. The ruinous Spanish civil war has just ended, with Francisco Franco established in power. The question now is, will Franco remain neutral in World War II or come in on the side of his benefactors, Hitler and Mussolini? Into this tense atmosphere steps a nervous British lieutenant, Harry Brett, who had been invalided out of the army but is then recruited to go to Spain. He is there ostensibly to function as an interpreter attached to the British embassy in Madrid but really to spy on an old school chum who is thought by British intelligence services to be involved with the fascist wing of the Franco government. A combination of historical novel and spy thriller, this evocation of a dangerous diplomatic environment, where no one can trust anyone, will have widespread appeal.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ENGLAND'S enduring class system can be aptly summed up in two words: public school. Those who attend English public schools in reality expensive private schools inherit a kind of right to rule. They learn how to survive in a world no less riven by competition and cruelty than society itself. After graduating, they can forever recognize one another. Even those who rebel are shaped by the experience. To be an English public schoolboy yes, most are still boys is to belong to a caste. The repressed power of this identity creates the narrative undercurrent of C.J. Sansom's new political thriller, "Winter in Madrid." The winter in question is that of 194041. With much of Europe under the Nazi boot and Britain wounded and isolated, neutral Spain is considering its options. General Franco, the Fascist victor in Spain's recently concluded civil war, identifies with Hitler and Mussolini, but Churchill hopes to deter him from joining the Axis. Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth and Bernie Piper are peripheral players in the broader political drama, linked by the fact that in the late 1920s they were fellow pupils at Rookwood, an English public school. Indeed, their experiences there as teenagers Harry got on well with Sandy and Bernie, who in turn detested each other determines what follows a decade or so later. When their paths cross in Spain, the past is inevitably present. At Rookwood, Harry was the only one who didn't have trouble fitting in: Sandy, estranged from his Anglican bishop father, was eventually expelled for bad behavior, while Bernie, a grocer's son attending Rookwood on a scholarship, embraced socialism. For a while, Harry stayed in touch with both, traveling to Spain with Bernie in 1931 and returning there six years later after Bernie went missing while fighting with Communist volunteers against Franco's nationalist forces. It was also then that Harry met Piper's girlfriend, a Red Cross worker named Barbara Clare. Sansom, a British lawyerturnedwriter, fills in this background through flashbacks, providing a potted history of Spain's descent into civil war. He also offers a taste of the hardship and fear gripping Madrid under its new Fascist dictator. Yet just as Hollywood prefers to place Englishspeaking heroes in movies set in foreign lands, Sansom tells his story through people like us. Franco "with his balding head, double chin and little graying mustache" makes a cameo appearance, but most of the Spaniards in "Winter in Madrid" are little more than extras to the Britons. Harry Brett is recruited by British intelligence, which hopes to use his Rookwood connection to discover what shady business Sandy is up to in Madrid, specifically whether his company has found gold reserves that will strengthen Franco's hand. Harry pretends to bump into Sandy in a cafe, and their old school days promptly return. "You were always a Rookwood man to your fingertips," Sandy teases. "Always followed the rules." More of a surprise for Harry is that Barbara, whom he last saw mourning Bernie, is now living in comfort with Sandy. But her quiet life is disrupted when she learns from a journalist that some foreigners including, perhaps, Bernie are among the Republican prisoners being held in a secret concentration camp. Suddenly her loyalties shift: determined to obtain Bernie's freedom, she now sees Sandy as a repulsive, corrupt cynic. It doesn't help when he takes up with their Spanish maid. ("I suppose it's a fantasy, a public school thing," Barbara concludes.) Having won Sandy's confidence, Harry has much to report to his old Etonian handler in the British Embassy, itself headed at the time (this bit is true) by Sir Samuel Hoare, an irascible codger who does a fair amount of moaning about "Winston." Harry also finds time to fall in love with Sofia, a beautiful young Spaniard whose brother, assigned to spy on him, Harry somewhat implausibly saves from a pack of wild dogs. A few twists and turns later, Sofia will join Harry and Barbara when they set off to rescue Bernie. A best seller in Britain, "Winter in Madrid" prompted some reviewers there to compare Sansom to Graham Greene, Sebastian Faulks and even Hemingway, but I came away less convinced. The idea of transferring public school rivalries to a real battleground is certainly clever, but more introspection would have been welcome. Without the compensation of rich language, the novel's formulaic structure becomes all too visible. True, Sansom has come up with a surprise ending, but that's what you expect of a thriller. The problem is that there aren't enough thrills in the chapters leading up to it. Alan Riding, the former European cultural correspondent of The Times, is a coauthor of "Opera."