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What I'm reading now: If the Dead Rise Not (Bernie Gunther Novels) by Phillip Kerr

Friday, November 23, 2007

Death of a Nationalist


Having recently read three books that took place in communist countries and described the difficult living conditions in each, I was completely taken aback by life in Post-War Spain, as depicted in the fascinating crime novel Death of a Nationalistset in Madrid circa 1939. Out of all the places I would NOT want to live at any time in history this ranks high up there, the irony being that my grandmother and father grew up in the heart of this trouble. I have always been proud of the fact that I am half-Spanish but now I am truly humbled by that fact, completely respectful of the circumstances that shaped my family’s experience there.

This is not your typical crime fiction novel, it is definitely more of an historical mystery; however, the sordid characters throughout and questionable ethics of the two protagonists plant it firmly in the genre for me. The story revolves around two individuals, one a fascist Guardia Civil named Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon searching for the person who killed his best friend and the other a communist miliciano in hiding, Gonzalo Llorente, searching for the person who murdered his fiancĂ©e, Viviana. Viviana was actually killed by Tejada who assumed she murdered his friend when he found her hovering over his body. If he had asked her the right questions before shooting her he would have discovered that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. So Tejada spends the length of the novel unraveling the identity of his friend’s true killer while piecing together the fact that he killed an innocent woman and greatly disturbed the lives of those who loved her. The central plot is a wonderful study of two men who are inadvertently searching for each other, and by political loyalties hate each other, yet ultimately two men who are able to put allegiances aside to atone for their own mistakes.

The book expertly weaves their stories together, alternating chapters to focus on one or the other’s viewpoint while simultaneously moving the story forward. Ms. Pawel did a great job in developing these overlapping stories, so good that I finished it in a few sittings. She also uncovers what a nightmare post-war Spanish life was like: hardly anything to eat, the constant scrutiny and suspicion everyone is under, the mere fact that walking down the street is dangerous, and the simple desire most people have to just survive the day or even a few more hours; I was enthralled. I can’t wait to read her follow-up novel Law Of Return.

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