Book Club: Winter in Madrid

16 Feb

Winter in Madrid

by C.J. Sansom

The quote on the cover says “If you like Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, you’ll love this”.  I do like Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafón but this book has languished, unread, on my bookshelf for months.  It probably doesn’t help that the quote is from the Daily Express (I was surprised when Princess Di didn’t crop up in the story.)

I remember Winter in Madrid was terribly popular; five years ago when I worked in Richmond Waterstones everyone seemed to be buying it.  Johnny Come Lately here plucked it off the shelf last week.  I read the blurb and was vaguely uninspired.  Every time I’ve looked for something to read I’ve gone through this same routine and put it back.  This time I decided to soldier on and give it a go, if only to tick it off the list of books I own and feel mildly guilty for not reading.

Set in Madrid in 1940, Harry Brett comes to spy on an old schoolfriend, Sandy Forsyth.  Sandy’s girlfriend, Barbara, also knows Harry, from three years earlier when he came to find Bernie, her former boyfriend who disappeared after the battle of Jarama.  Barbara, it turns out, is looking for Bernie again, a little mission which Harry gets tangled up in.

I don’t know a lot about the Spanish Civil War or Franco, and I’m not sure a lot of people do, not if they’re my age anyway, unless they’re doing Hispanic Studies or similar like my friend Daisy.  She and my Spanish stepmother have given me a sketchy idea of the history but it was nice to read something that filled in some of the gaps.

That said at one point the story got very Inglorious Basterds for me and that spoilt it slightly.  Also Sansom’s inclusion of factual characters – albeit seen through his eyes – didn’t sit very well, but that’s something true of most books written in the same way.

Aside from the aforementioned Tarantino moment, the adventure in the plot is great and at times awfully gripping.  Sandy’s business ventures were cleverly thought out and unfolded wonderfully, the shocks delivered at perfect moments.

The characters were quite interesting though Sandy – who surely should have been the most exciting, as the villain always is – seemed a bit flat and at times slightly cartoonish.  The one I could have entirely gone without is Sophia, a Spanish girl Harry meets.  I found absolutely nothing about her particularly real.  As ridiculous as it sounds she was just too fictional for me.  Milagros Maestre appears only a handful of times and yet out of all of them it’s her I empathised most with and would have liked her to play a bigger part.

Negatives aside the book is a good read.  While I wouldn’t say I couldn’t put it down it was certainly absorbing and a well written, stirring story.  Though if I’m honest I’m not sure I would lend it to anyone unless the setting was something they were particularly interested in.

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2 Responses to “Book Club: Winter in Madrid”

  1. conorcaffrey February 19, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks for this review.
    This has been on my shelf too for ages.
    Maybe now I will be motivated to read it.

    • Sarah Duggers February 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      You’ll have to come back and tell me what you thought of it!

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