Winter in Madrid

Written by C. J. Sansom

A bestseller in the United Kingdom, C.J. Sansom’s thriller is now available in the U.S. Readers may recognize Sansom for his Matthew Shardlake Tudor mystery series, but the intrigue in Winter in Madrid happens far from the British courts.

Harry Brett, recently rehabilitated from being shell-shocked at Dunkirk, is recruited by the British Secret Service in September 1940. He’s asked to infiltrate the world of the Royalists and Falangists in post-Civil War Spain to spy on Sandy Forsyth, a wily friend from Harry’s school days. Franco’s politics, the British blockade, and Hitler’s troops on parade at the Spanish border don’t make his job easy. It’s a time of historic identity-seeking, for Spain and Harry alike, and his world is further complicated when he finds Sandy Forsyth living with a mutual friend, Barbara Clare, a nurse who is, for her part, using Sandy to look for her former lover, Bernie Piper, who disappeared while fighting with the British Battalion in the battle of Jarama three years earlier. Harry must keep his stories straight so as not to blow his cover, and he finds himself living several lives, and many lies, as he tries to integrate into Spanish society. The experiences which end up touching him the most are those with a poverty-stricken family scraping by in a bombed-out barrio.

The descriptions of the pain, suffering, and devastation of war—internal and international—are spine-chilling, and one feels as if one is there in the cold devastation of Madrid in 1940. There are moments of happiness and light, as well, as Harry learns to trust and to love, though those qualities may be the very ones which his superiors warn will keep him from accomplishing his mission. This is a page-turner right to the end, with several twists along the way!