Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rebecca Pawel's Death of a Nationalist

I read Rebecca Pawel's Death of a Nationalist (2003) and was really impressed. It is a murder mystery set in Spain just after the conclusion of the civil war. So who killed the Guardia Civil? The main character, Sergeant Carlos Tejada, thinks he knows and immediately executes the person. Then he gradually realizes (as the reader already knows) that he is wrong. How he deals with that is the core of the novel.

Two things make this book stand out. First is the landscape. You feel Madrid in the book, with the fear, pain, and uncertainty. She teases out the shortages of basic goods along with the black market availability for those with the right kind of money (i.e. not Republican). She lays out the hatred the two sides had for each other--really, even more than hatred there was just disdain. She also brings out how everyone is careful what they say and what emotions they allow to show, even with supposed allies.

Second is the character complexity. Through Tejada you feel the ideology of the Spanish civil war. He is absolutely cold-blooded about Republicans or indeed anyone who is not entirely with Franco and the Nationalist cause. Some of the most interesting parts of the novel are his encounters with people with different ideological perspectives, and how he feels about them. He even has to find ways to rationalize why he helps some people and not others.

I add this to my collection of political mysteries for a class I will teach someday. Exactly when, I have no idea.


Anonymous,  12:09 PM  

I've read the 2nd and 3rd Tejada books too, and they're good too. She's also written a 4th.

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