I recall this book being a recommendation to me as a result of my love for The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I subsequently picked this up and was drawn once again into the era during and around the Spanish Civil War, a period and place in history my knowledge of was previously non existent.
This is an excellent novel that has convincing characters and a genuine feeling of authenticity about the conditions in Madrid following the Civil War that evoke the scenes being written and the grimness into your mind. The story line itself has many parallel threads that develop to a conclusion full of suspense and drama.
While it is historical fiction it is also both spy novel and a love story. The historical basis shows the developing political machinations in Europe at the time, with the risk of Spain allying with the Germans against Britain, and the efforts of British diplomats to avoid this by subtle relationship building with key people in the Spanish government.
While all of this may suggest literary espionage in the Le Carré vein, that’s not quite what we get. Sansom deploys a fractured time scheme, moving between past and present: we are back in Harry’s loveless childhood, then in murky 1940s Madrid, where betrayal is the order of the day, or in the public school where Harry and opportunistic Sandy first meet. Similarly, the reader is catapulted from Barbara’s relationships with her lovers Sandy and Bernie to the humiliations of childhood, where unhappiness over her appearance is to mark her for life. But as Winter in Madrid progresses, Sansom adroitly draws the disparate strands of his ambitious saga together.
The effects of the Spanish Civil War on the various classes of people in Spain are documented well and the novel also explores the bitter wounds caused to family and social relationships by the polarisation of the nation into two different sides.
The story is gripping and moves along at a steady pace and you are drawn into caring for the characters and what happens to them. A truly great book.