Review: Winter in Madrid

Winter in Madrid, by C.J. Sansom

The Down and Dirty

Settle in with a nice cup of coffee and allow A Reader’s Respite to tell you about a book.

A fabulous book. Really and truly.

In 1936 Spain, as World War II was gearing up, a military uprising led by General Franco sprang up against a leftist government and the Spanish Civil War began. Unable to obtain help from any other country, the leftist government turned to the Stalin who was all too happy to export his particular brand of “assistance.”

And so it was that the Spanish people found themselves in the crossfire between two of the most undesireable factions fighting for control of their country: facists or communists.

The breadth of the destruction of Spain both during the Civil War and the years following the dictator Franco’s rule over Spain cannot be overstated.

And this is the riveting time period that C.J. Sansom brings to life in his novel, Winter in Madrid.

Harry Brett finds himself at a bit of a loss whenout of the army on a medical discharge after the British retreat from the advancing Germans at Dunkirk. Recruited by British Intelligence, whose goal is to keep Spain from entering WWII on the side of the Axis powers, Harry heads off to Madrid to spy on an old school chum, Sandy Forsyth, who may or may not be supporting Franco’s fascist regime.

But Sandy isn’t Harry’s only connection to Madrid. Bernie Piper, another old schoolmate who dropped out of school to join the International Brigades, died there fighting the fascists during the Civil War.

Except Bernie didn’t die. And Sandy isn’t who he appears to be.

The Lit Crit

Not much to say here, as this novel was nearly as perfect as a novel can be. From a historical perspective, Sansom’s research is a wonder and more importantly, his ability to translate his research into a seamless story is nothing short of amazing.

The Spanish Civil War was a politically convoluted mess. Yet Sansom never loses the reader. It is impossible not to feel incredibly illuminated about a period in history often glossed over.

The plot is perfectly paced, eventually reaching a conclusion that reflects the ambiguity of the time, and the characters are some of the most fully developed ever seen in a historical novel of this scope.

The Recommendation

For any historical buff, A Reader’s Respite is not just recommending Winter in Madrid to you, we’re telling you that you MUST read this book.

If you’re looking for an even more comprehensive education about Spain’s Civil War and their role in WWII, couple this novel with Dave Boling’s award-winning novel, Guernica, a review of which you can read here tomorrow.

Title: Winter in Madrid
Author: C.J. Sansom
ISBN-13: 978-0143115137
544 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Date: January 27, 2009 (pbk.)

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  1. But didn't you get a wee bit depressed while reading? :) I loved it, too.

  2. I read Dissolution by Sansom and wasn't very impressed. I've heard that this is a very different book. Winter in Madrid has some terrible reviews on Amazon. I was wondering if this was because people who loved his Shardlake series weren't fans of this one. This one does sound much better, but need to be convinced that it would be very different from Dissolution.

  3. First of all, I love the cover. That always helps. And you are right, I know virtually nothing about this slice of history. I think it just gets overshadowed by all of the other messes going on in Europe at the time. I think I may pick this us as part of my WWII Reading Challenge. As for the Amazon reviews? Could this be the roving band of maniacs at work?

  4. Sounds like a really interesting book. Thanks for the review!

  5. Hummm. This one sounds interesting. WWII is not a usual genre for me, but I might have to give this one a shot.

  6. You've convinced me to add it to my wish list.

  7. Your review sounds so much better than the one's I recently read on Amazon. I just might have to give it a try.

  8. Amy - you're right...the destruction during their Civil War was mind-boggling-sad. :(

    Farmlanebooks - you know, I've never read his other books, altho I don't normally read historical fiction mysteries. As to the Amazon reviews...I'm just baffled at them. I'd wait and see some more blog reviews before I believed what's on Amazon.

    Sandy - could be, but maybe my tastes are skewed. Perhaps I'm the strange one for loving this book so much?

    Kathy, Beth, Rhapsody and Nely - it's really a "smartly-written" book. I cared about the characters, I was fascinated by the history and despite the seriousness of the subjet, it was easy to follow. Again, not sure what's up with the Amazon reviews.

  9. Great review. YOu've caught my attention. Sounds like a book I need to read.

  10. Hey nerd...I gave you an award...come and get it!

  11. Glad you liked it so much! I don't think I've heard of this author before.

  12. I don't think I would have been drawn to this book by the cover, but your description makes it sound very good.

  13. I am anxious to hear what you though of Guernica. In fact, I best go back and see what I thought of it when I reviewed it here. It has been awhile...

  14. I've gotta read this one, Michele! I love books set around or during WWII.


  15. Shana - I actually thought of you several times whilst reading this...I know how you love WWII fiction! And I think you would really, really like this book.

  16. Now this looks like my kind of book. *sigh* Another one for the list.

  17. I actually really enjoyed both Dark Fire and Dissolution, C.J. Sansom's first two medieval mysteries. I thought he did a fantastic job with that time period.

    Winter in Madrid is right here awaiting my attention, I'm glad to know you liked it, I'll have to try to get to it soon!

    (How am I ever going to find more reading time.....)


  18. Carey -- reading time? I recently discovered repo flights...mucho reading time there, LOL!

  19. You had me at the nice cup of coffee I was invited for!

    *Winter in Madrid* is on my shelf, waiting patiently for me; thanks for the excellent review!

  20. Looking forward to reading this one at some point. Sorry I'm late with this one, but I've posted it here here on War Through the Generations.

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