Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Watcher in the Pine

Posted by nliakos on October 12, 2012

by Rebecca Pawel  (Soho Press 2005)

This is classified as MYSTERY/FICTION, but it isn’t a mystery like P.D. James or Agatha Christie would write. It is billed as “A Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon Investigation.” Pawel has written two earlier books in the series, Death of a Nationalist and Law of Return, as well as one later book, The Summer Snow. Carlos Tejada, a lieutenant in the Guardia Civil in past-Civil War Spain, also figures in these. Pawel is an American who has spent time in Spain studying flamenco; I’m not a good judge, but her knowledge of the subject matter seems profound. I learned a lot about the place and the period from reading the book, which is one reason I love (historical) fiction.

Lt. Tejada and his pregnant wife Elena arrive in the Cantabrian town of Potes (a real place, as I discovered in the Afterword), where he will be in charge of the Civil Guard. Tejada and Elena are deeply in love, but politically, they are actually on opposite sides, which gives the novel its tension. Carlos Tejada is a decent human being, a fundamentally good person, but I found myself sympathizing more with Elena, whose background as a teacher and an intellectual predisposes her to Republican ideas. (It’s kind of hard to imagine how these two fell in love, but I guess if I read the earlier books, I could find out.)

Life in Potes is a far cry from what Elena is used to, but she does her best to settle in without complaining. She tries to find ways to spend her days while her husband is dealing with shortages (of staff and materials), hostility (from the townspeople and those in his command), burglaries (of dynamite and building materials), and jealousy.  When Elena is kidnapped by the maquis (guerrillas), Lt. Tejada is forced to decide where his loyalty really lies.

A great read! I found it hard to put down.

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