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It's March 1939 in Madrid. The Civil War is over and Franco and the Nationalist cause have prevailed over the Communists, Socialists and Republicans. The peace is uneasy though and for those who fought it's still very much a case of "us vs. them" and struggle is still to the death. It is against this tense backdrop that Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon is sent out to investigate what appears to be the sniper shooting of a fellow officer of the Guardia Civil. Tejada is young for a sergeant but, also unusual for the Guardia, he's got a law degree and is the son of a wealthy landowner. He's also one of the heroes of the siege of Toledo and so a figure of some awe among his colleagues.

The dead Guardia turns out to be a friend who he fought alongside at Toledo and when a young woman is found near the body clutching a notebook Tejada administers rough justice--or so he thinks. Further investigation though reveals that his friend's death was not what it seems and the young woman may not have been the killer. Tejada's inquiries are made more difficult by the distrust of Republican sympathizers and by corruption within the ranks of his own force.

Ms Pawel has made a courageous decision in not just making her hero an avowed Francoist, but in having him commit such a violent and problematic act in the opening pages of the book. Tejada calls to mind other cops working in equally oppressive situations--Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko; Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther; and J. Robert Janes's St. Cyr and Kohler. But where all of them are dubious about the truly evil regimes they serve, Tejada is a committed believer in the authoritarian regime he serves. Of course, it helps immeasurably that Franco turns out to have been a genuine hero of the 20th Century, who refused to let Hitler use Spain for his own purposes and who eventually left behind a nation capable of sustaining a stable democracy and rapid economic development. We need only imagine the fate of a Bolshevik Spain and her people to see how tragically misguided are the Reds of the novel, which only makes Tejada more sympathetic.

The setting is morbidly fascinating; the mystery more than adequate; and the characters first rate--Ms Pawel has given us a welcome addition to the mystery ranks.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Rebecca Pawel Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Death of a Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel (Soho Press)
    -BOOK SITE: Law of Return by Rebecca Pawel (Soho Press)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Nationalist and Law of Return (Marietta Dunn, Knight Ridder)
    -REVIEW: of Law of Return (Jon L. Breen, Weekly Standard)

Book-related and General Links: