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Winter in Madrid [Paperback]

C. J. Sansom
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read Feb. 28 2014
By Ronda
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A love story during the 2 world war, , enjoyed, but not a gripping story ,an amazing sacrifice story and commitment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read June 30 2010
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed very much that well balanced mixture of history, espionage and romance. The description of post-civil war Spain, the blend of real and fictional characters, the appeal of flawed but fondamentally decent human beings drawn in something far bigger than what they have ever known adds to that novel's strong credibility. And don't look there for happy endings. Kudos!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dark and dreary April 19 2012
By hlb
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book because I like the writer's other work and am also interest in modern Spanish history. It was uninspiring and rather depressing.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  102 reviews
70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thriller set in Spain just after the Civil War Sept. 11 2007
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Harry Brett, who had studied Spanish at Cambridge, has been in Spain three times: in 1931 when he went there on holiday with Bernie Piper, an old schoolfriend of his and a Communist. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Bernie went back to Spain to fight for the Republicans, and was reported missing, believed killed. Harry went back a second time in 1937, at the request of Bernie's parents, to see whether he could find out what exactly had happened to Bernie. The Republican side was then controlled by the Russians who took him for a bourgeois spy, and he was given 24 hours to leave. His third visit was in 1940. The Civil War had ended in 1939 with Franco's victory, and it was touch and go whether Spain would enter the war on Hitler's side. Harry was now, for his third visit, sent out to the British Embassy by the Secret Service, ostensibly as a translator, but actually to spy on another former school friend of his, Sandy Forsyth, who was doing business with the Falangists.

This scenario enables Sansom, moving backwards and forwards in time, to paint a vivid and evocative picture of Spain in this period: the grim Republican resistance to Franco's advancing forces during the civil war, the ruined and dilapidated state of Madrid just after the civil war under Franco's rule, the hatreds which were still blazing when the war was over. It is clear where Sansom's sympathies lie: he paints scathing pictures of the Catholic clergy, is contemptuous of the wealthy Franco supporters, and has made Bernie the novel's hero. The historical background is very well researched. The tensions on the hapless Republican side, between Liberals, Stalinists and Trotskyists are fairly well known, but Sansom is also illuminating on the tension between the victors: between the Falangists and the monarchists. So on each side everyone is plotting against everyone else. There is at least one real historical figure in the book: Sir Samuel Hoare, the British ambassador to the Franco regime at the time, anxious to keep Spain out of the Second World War and hoping to find allies in this endeavour among the monarchists.

Interwoven with Harry's activities as a spy, there are two love stories. One involves Barbara Clare, who had met and fallen in love with Bernie when she was an unpolitical Red Cross nurse during the civil war. After his disappearance she lived with Sandy, but was still trying to find out whether Bernie was not still alive - a dangerous thing to do in Franco Spain. The other involves Harry and a young left-wing Spanish woman.

The plot moves forward a little slowly in the first half of this very long book of 549 pages, but I did not mind that: my interest did not flag; and anyway the pace quickens and the tension rises about half way through. The style occasionally degenerates into clichés, but there are many memorable set pieces, including a particularly haunting one about a pack of feral dogs in the ruins of Madrid. And those who know Spain only through their summer holidays will not be familiar with the winter's biting cold, which here enters into the reader's bones.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Descriptions of places are vivid and compelling Dec 30 2006
By E. Fasolino - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this book at a mystery bookshop in London and despite the thickness decided to carry it back home. For readers of Pawel's novels of Spain during war time this book will be of interest. Although not at all similar in style this book has much stronger physical descriptions and gives a better overview of the tangled political issues of the day. The prose is repetitive and the story overlong--it seems that Sansom deserves a better editor than he had. Overall this book is compelling and has interesting twists and turns. I would read another book of historical fiction by this writer, especially about this period in history.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Code for Sovereigns! Feb. 9 2009
By Viviane Crystal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The fossils Sandy Forsyth loves are a wonderful metaphor for the historical period this novel spans, 1937-1947, in war-torn Spain. For fossils hold full or partial body parts in their last colossal, life-death battle. It's a time full of surprises, when the strong are shown to be weak and vice versa. Sandy's favorite fossil, a dinosaur's limb, vividly displays Spain's hopes and defeats, "...curled, as though the creature had been about to strike when it died."

First, meet Bernie Piper, a graduate of the prestigious Rookwood School in England, now lying at the foot of a knoll in the Jarama Valley, Spain in February of 1937. He's a die-hard socialist, rejecting everything he learned in school and sharing the fight against the Generalissimo Franco's fascist followers. It doesn't look like a victory Bernie will win!

Then get to really know Barbara Clare, an ex in so many ways - ex-Red Cross nurse, ex-lover of Bernie, and expatriate who is lost in her despair over possibly having lost Bernie, seeing the Spanish situation corrode into devastating poverty and death, and being lost in her relationship with Sandy Forsyth who seems bent on recreating her in his own image. But Barbara knows more than she's telling and may have a way to find out if Bernie is still alive as a prisoner of war in the brutal prisoner-of-war camps run by the rigid, ultra-Catholic Republican Guards.

Enters Harry Brett, a spy for the British Secret Service. Harry really doesn't want to be doing this job but is reluctantly enticed into spying on his old school friend, Sandy, in Madrid. Harry's recovering from brutal injuries he received while fighting in Dunkirk, barely over his posttraumatic panic attacks and barely in possession of full hearing yet. The pages that follow rivet the reader's focus in two directions.

The convoluted chronology of Spain's political situation introduces the reader to the powers supporting Franco, the Republicans and the Communists, all vying for supremacy and at the same time feeling Hitler's pincer-like approach ever-looming. Who to trust? Who to support? How to survive? One clearly sees, after a brief while, that there are no winners as each group in its fanatical fervor destroys the land they claim to love. Leaders and manipulators flourish; the poor and destitute live parasitical lives in order to get through this horrific conflict.

What Harry eventually discovers, in the second focus of this novel, is far worse than originally contemplated. Sandy's involved in something bigger and deadlier than even he realizes. As one swiftly turns these pages, he or she is stunned at the breathtaking end in which all bets are off and the plot unravels in a most unexpected manner with devastating results.

C. J. Sansom, with a well-researched, dynamic presentation, vividly presents a historical, romantic, adventurous story in a tightly plotted manner. This story deserves wide acclaim as a notable blockbuster, portraying a too often ignored but potent segment of Spain and England's history and politics.

Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on February 9, 2009
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Winter in Madrid March 1 2010
By Rachel Webb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Winter in Madrid is an eye-opening introduction to the abhorrent cruelties and deprivations that took place in post civil war Spain. General Franco playes his cards close to his chest while deciding whether to enter the war or retain Spain's neutrality. Hunger, fear and violence rule, although the city of Madrid has never been so quiet. People live in fear of their lives, trusting no one, and staying off the streets as much as possible.

Into this scene comes the ex- public school boy Harry Brett, a traumatized World War I veteran, recruited as a reluctant spy. The British Secret Services aim to use Harry's language skills as cover for him to spy on his old school chum, Sandy Forsyth, now a ruthless businessman working in and around Madrid.

From bombings in London to depression in Madrid, Harry seeks to make contact with Forsyth, which plunges him into an uncertain and dangerous world of the black market and political alliances.

Meanwhile another former school contemporary, Bernie, (missing presumed dead), is being searched for by his girlfriend who is now the not-so-willing girlfriend of the slick Forsyth.

The class system, black market and disappearance of innocent people continues long after the civil war has ended. Drought and destroyed infrastructure have left the people on the edge of starvation, rummaging in rubbish bags and begging. Nice "boy" Harry reluctantly learns to live, lie and survive on these streets.

This book is a page-turner, with its enjoyable action-packed twists and the moving not -so- far fetched descriptions of the times. Some of the years after the war and under Franco's regime were harder and more harrowing than the war itself.

Simpson has woven a great tale of history, love and intrigue, which blends this story into a classic tale of loyalties and new allegiances. There's no need to be a spy or war book fan to enjoy the novel; it is a satisfying read for many reasons including love entanglements, history, and emotion.

A big story, fascinating read and a great introduction to the troubled times that mark Spain's past.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars terrific historical thriller Jan. 26 2008
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
By 1940 the brutal Spanish Civil War has finally ended, but much of the country remains devastated with people worried about basic sustenance needs like food, clean water, and shelter. As neutral Spain struggles to recover, the Germans blitzkrieg continues its rapid conquest of Europe and their air force daily bombs the last foe Britain. The leader of the winning side General Francisco Franco and his Fascist party considers joining the Nazis like Mussolini and Italy did.

England sends reluctant Harry Brett to spy on his old peer Sandy Forsyth, a dishonest Madrid businessman, who has close toes to Franco. Brett has doubts he is the man for the job, but journeys to Madrid to win the confidence of Sandy and through him what Franco's plans re the war with Hitler are. However, he finds Madrid nothing like the energized vibrant city that it was just a few years ago under the short lived republic when he and his close friend Bernie Piper visited the city. Instead he finds distressed hopeless people starving and dying; he wants to go home where the Nazi bombings have only increased the fortitude of his fellow Brits to defeat the German monster.

WINTER IN MADRID is a terrific historical thriller that is part espionage and part political. The storyline provides an insightful look at the aftermath of Franco's victory in the Civil War especially the political turmoil of a divided Fascist Party debating whether to join its two allies or recuperate from the bloody internal fight. C.J. Sansom places a powerful spotlight on battered Spain as WW II has devastated much the rest of the continent while the Battle of Britain seems inevitable and would enable Franco to claim like Mussolini he was on the victorious side.

Harriet Klausner
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