My previous (and first) essay into C.J. Samson was Heartstone, a most satisfying journey into the days of Henry VIII’s England with a humpback attorney named Shardlake as he investigated and solved a couple of vexing mysteries. When I published my little commentary, I got a message from Lesley, who put me on to Samson in the first place, that Heartstone was not the best of the series. I inquired further. Winter in Madrid, she advised. Nothing to do with HVIII, but was a fine read. Right she was.
Our protagonist, Harry Brett, is an academic type who has just been invalided out of the British army after being wounded at Dunkirk. The primary aftermath of his injuries include a slight deafness in one ear and a bothersome case of PTSD. Because he knows Spanish and because he has connections in Spain with a couple of old school chums who are/were involved with the Spanish Civil War, he’s recruited as a spy to help keep Franco from joining Hitler. Or at least to discover when and if and how it might happen. Nice setup.
Harry’s task is to renew ties with an acquaintance who is involved in business and political activities of a suspicious nature, figure out what the score is, and report back. Harry never liked the guy, and after hearing about his current activities, agrees to go ahead. Complicating matters is the surprise encounter with a woman who is purported to be married to this guy (they’re not wed), and whom he’d known briefly when he came back just after the war to help her track down another school chum, her lover, who’d been listed as missing/presumed dead fighting against the fascists.
Other complications include factions within the embassy which push Harry in various directions, Harry’s moral misgivings about betraying an old friend, no matter his current feelings about the guy, and unexpected involvement with people connected with his previous trip. Before long, he’s entangled with folks who represent a full range of social and political Spain as well as with a variety of British interests, not all of them noble. As a background, WWII continues to rage back home.
The intrigues build as Samson pulls Harry deeper and deeper into a variety of conspiracies and dangers, none of which he is equipped to handle either by temperament or training. Love and sex play a big part. Your sympathies are yanked to and fro, and the suspense is exquisite. After the suspense is over and you’ve caught you’re breath from how it all ends, Samson’s afterword about his research and some of the history is enlightening and well worth the read. A memorable trip to Madrid this is, and memorable for all the right reasons.