SEPTEMBER SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Dead’ by Mark Oldfield

MADRID, 1982.
Comandante Leopoldo Guzmán has decided it is time to disappear. Franco is in his grave and there’s no place in the new order for the one-time head of the dead dictator’s secret police.

But first Guzmán needs money. Luckily, blackmail has always come easily to him – after all, he knows where the bodies are.

And so he should. He buried them.

MADRID, 2010.
Fifteen tangled corpses in a disused mine, three bound skeletons in a sealed cellar – a trail of dead that has led forensic investigator Ana María Galindez to one Comandante Leopoldo Guzmán.

Guzmán himself disappeared decades ago but she fears his toxic legacy lives on. Her investigation has revealed a darkness at the heart of Spain, a conspiracy born amid the corruption and deprivation of Franco’s dictatorship, a conspiracy that after decades in the shadows, is finally ready to bloom.

cover and blurb via amazon

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The Dead is a long-awaited book for me – I read The Sentinel and The Exile as soon as they were released, so I pounced on this as well. The Dead is the final in the trilogy of Franco-lover Guzman and the modern-day investigator Ana Maria Galindez, who is literally about to have history come back to bite her.

The Dead moves at such a fast pace you need to make sure you are stable in your seat. You could read The Dead on its own, but I recommend the first two just for the joy. The book lives is in three time periods; 2010, where Galindez is looking for Guzman, whom she has been tracking after forensic evidence put him in the centre of multiple murders and torturing incidents during the Franco regime. The book keeps jumping around, entering 1982, where Guzman runs the Brigada Especial; Franco is dead and the ‘glory’ days of being able to be a vicious fascist is over. Spain is concreting over its past and wants democracy to work. Guzman has one last mission, and wants to end his enemies. What I love is the little flashbacks to 1965, and Inspector Villanuevo who lives in tiny Llanto del Moro. A policeman living under Franco is bound to get caught up in something nasty.

Even with three time periods, the storyline gallops along, the flashbacks filling in details as Galindez tracks Guzman to the bitter ended. The reality of life under Franco and those fragile years post-death swaps out to Spain 2010, not exactly a prosperous time, but at least free. Those who were murdered in Franco’s name, those who are the ‘disappeared’ and the selling of babies all comes back to haunt Spain and Guzman in his final stand.

You all know I love these subjects. My own Spanish trilogy dealt with baby selling, the Brigada Espeical and the ‘disappeared’ from the Spanish Civil War onwards. Only, I like Guzman, even though he was the bad guy. I could never really root for Galindez, the history nerd in me kept referring to the other characters.

In Oldfield’s version, the story is more important than history, so it can appeal to a wide range. The series is neatly tied up and at least some of Spain’s ghost are laid to rest. Reading this made me want to dump all my own work and write another Spanish historical fiction immediately.

Click here to read my reviews of The Sentinel and the Exile

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