I just finished DEATH OF A NATIONALIST, Rebecca Pawel’s debut novel. Set in Madrid in 1939, the story revolves around the murder of a Guardia Civil, who may or may not have been involved with the black market.
Spain in the 1930s was a chaotic place. The Second Republic replaced a failed monarchy in 1933. By 1936 the factions that constituted the Republican government faced a right wing coup by the National Front. Madrid was controlled by the Republicans; the Nationalists wanted control of the city.
During a three year siege Madrid was assaulted by German bombers, nationalist artillery and eventually, after the fall of Guadalajara, by Mussolini’s regular army. The Guardia Civil was a paramilitary force that operated outside the authority of the army. Once General Franco took power the Guardia operated with grim efficiency in search of enemies of the state.
The novel’s principal characters are Guardia Sergeant Tejada and Gonzalo Llorente. Tejada is investigating the murder of a fellow Guardia, the nationalist of the book’s title, while Gonzalo is struggling to survive. The discovery of a child’s notebook sets Tejada on a course that proves to be personally momentous for him and for Gonzalo and his family as well.
DEATH OF A NATIONALIST won an Edgar Award in 2003. Rebecca Pawel is nominated for the Macavity Award at Bouchercon next month. The only quarrel I have with that is that her work should be viewed in a broader context than mystery; she’s created a literary work that explores much more than most genre fiction could hope to do.
Pawel has also chosen to develop Carlos Tejada’s character over a series of novels. This is the best possible basis for a series, but it’s a risky approach, one that flies in the face of marketing wisdom regarding our collective attention spans. The risk-reward equation goes along the lines of the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Read her books, collect your reward.