A review of the novel “Winter In Madrid” by C J Sansom

Christopher John Sansom is a British writer of historical crime novels best-known for his Matthew Shardlake series set in Tudor England. He has written two standalone novels: “Dominion” (2012) which I read first and “Winter In Madrid” (2006) which I read rather later.

While “Dominion” is set in a fictional Britain of winter 1952 when Britain has made peace with Nazi Germany, “Winter In Madrid” is largely set in 1940 just after the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War when Britain was concerned that Franco might take take his country into the Second World War on the side of Hitler and Mussolini who had assisted him during the civil war. 

There are a limited number of characters, primarily three former students of Rookwood boarding school: Harry Brett who is recruited by the British secret service to establish the details of a suspected source of gold in Franco’s Spain, Sandy Forsyth who is believed to be a key player in the development of a gold mine in the country, and Bernie Piper who was a member of the International Brigades in the civil war and long missing presumed dead.

The devastated city of Madrid, with its appalling poverty and blatant corruption, is almost a character in itself and there is much mention of cigarette smoking and coffee drinking. As with “Dominion”, Sansom does not hide his political stance which, in this case, is anti-fascist and pro-republican but critical of the revolutionary Left.

It has to be said that the historical portrayal of post-civil war Spain in this novel is more convincing than the plot which is very slow-burning with a rather downbeat ending. Sansom – who has both a BA and PhD in history – really does his research but his literary style is quite plain and his narrative is too thin. However, at over 500 pages, it was a satisfying enough read for the second lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic. 


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