13 August 2013

Winter In Madrid by C. J. Sansom, Book review

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 27, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0143115137


September 1940: the Spanish Civil War is over, Madrid lies in ruin, while the Germans continue their march through Europe, and General Franco evades Hitler's request that he lead his broken country into yet another war. 

Into this uncertain world comes a reluctant spy for the British Secret Service, sent to gain the confidence of Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend turned shady Madrid businessman. 
Meanwhile, an ex-Red Cross nurse is engaged in a secret mission of her own. 

Through this dangerous game of intrigue, C. J. Sansom's riveting tale conjures a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.

Here are my thoughts:

The historical events highlighted in C. J. Sansom's novel Winter in Madrid reflects every bit of the misery of  Franco's dramatic Civil war aftermath. For my part, I know little of this sad period but the toll of casualties.

The author delivers a compelling story of intrigues steeped in honour, loyalty, love and friendship against the dubious world of spy games. I'll tip my hat to him as he managed to hold my interest for 549 pages whilst I immersed myself in his novel. But...there is something I must explain!

There is little doubt C. J. Sansom's interests are complexed, his story reflecting the deep emotional dilemma of a country then laying in ruins, the three rival political parties (Republican, Monarchist and Falangist - see notes HERE) who could have tipped the balance of power one way or another, and the people who struggled to survive yet another day amongst the horror of such senseless dictatorship. No one could be trusted. Spain was neutral territory but for how long with the Nazis gaining power daily?

Winter in Madrid's main protagonist is Harry Brett, recruited by the British Secret Services because of his language skills to spy on Sandy, an old friend and a shady character close to Franco's cabinet. 

Here begins the description of an era's lost innocence, the hapless Spanish civilians who are on the edge of starvation, Harry our reluctant spy and the third individual in this thriller, Bernie, another schoolmate who like many appear to have disappeared in the dark of the night, those nameless souls found perhaps languishing in a concentration camp or executed in a dark alley.

Interwoven amongst it all are two love stories which reminds us life goes on despite hardships. In these dramatic circumstances perhaps C. J. Sansom felt after all a little romance was needed to appeal to a larger audience, meaning women as well as men.

No doubt well written, with its intriguing time frame this thriller would have earned a heartfelt 5 stars if it wasn't for the fact that the last chapter was a disappointment. Perhaps it was the aim of the author to leave us wondering, but I found the ending much too lukewarm for my taste.

I wavered betwixt 3 and 4 stars. To be fair I'll go with the 4!

About the Author:


"Born in 1952, Christopher John Sansom grew up in Edinburgh, the only child of an English father and a Scottish mother. On the subject of his childhood he is brief, but manages in a few words to convey a sense of colourlessness: his family was "traditional Presbyterian"; his education took place at "a dreadful private school"; his parents weren't readers and the school, where "any sort of imagination was seen as rather naughty", didn't encourage an interest in books either. Despite – or perhaps because of – being raised "in a very conservative household, with a small and a capital C", he underwent a political awakening in his teens that was to affect the path of his life."

Source (HERE). Also visit the included website to find out more about Winter In Madrid or others books written by C. J. Sansom, read an excerpt and/or listen to an extract (HERE).

Note to Readers: Unless specified, reviews are not requested and reflects ONLY my opinion.


  1. Glad you liked it, I found it hard going in places x

  2. I think I was less impressed by the plotline than the facts highlighted by the historical research Josie-Mary hence debating betwixt 3 and 4 stars.
    Sansom's writing skills are not to be doubted but I envisioned a different ending...I am a dreamer after all!


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