Friday, February 14, 2014

The Maze of Cadiz: Aly Monroe

From the description on the back of my edition of the book:
1944. Sent to Spain to arrest a rogue spy, British agent Peter Cotton expects an easy first assignment. But he arrives to find his quarry dead and all of Cadiz awaiting his arrival. In a hotbed of scandal and murder, Cotton must navigate through a labyrinth of international conspiracies, shifting political allegiances and a mysterious local expatriate community to discover the truth.
This has been a difficult review for me. I am torn with conflicting opinions on this book and my experience reading it. I liked some aspects, but it didn't grab me at all.

This book was very slow to read. Yet I was not bored by the story. I just kept wondering when something was going to happen and what the point was. At about 80% into the novel, all of a sudden it got exciting and I could see what it had been building up to. But I wasn't too happy waiting that long for a payoff. And I was not given any sense of how the protagonist arrived at his deductions (or guesses) about the situation.

I enjoyed the picture of Spain, September 1944. Hotter than I can imagine, a different kind of heat. I loved a lot of the descriptions.
His scalp prickled as drops of sweat formed. Then the sweating stopped. Cotton had been this hot before as a child of about seven years old in Mexico, when he had felt his forehead and pronounced it 'spongy'.  'Oh, you're transpiring, dear,' his mother said. 'We'll get you something to drink. But do remember to sip. Gulping is bad for you.' She had also given him a definition of transpiring. 'When you're too hot to sweat, dear, the water sort of wafts out of you. It can be rather dangerous.'
When he visits the British cemetery...
The cemetery was not much bigger than a suburban garden, and in no way big enough for the massive, mottled trees that inhabited it. Tree roots had pushed gravestones aside, cracked slabs, and invaded the paths. It was almost like being in a rank, green room. Leaves shrouded the view to the sky and filtered the light like a lamp Cotton remembered in his maiden aunt's house: she had called it art nouveau, but it had always struck him as modified Moroccan...
I know I am not alone in my assessment of this book being too slowly paced. I have read several reviews by bloggers saying the same thing. Yet I also see many positive reviews, some cited at the author's website.

Also, Mike Ripley speaks glowingly about this book at the Eurocrime website, and I respect his opinion.
This is not a spy story crammed with car chases and explosions, but a tale of the more realistic, downbeat dangerous trivia of the clandestine life which is very convincingly done; so convincingly I was beginning to suspect that Ms Monroe may actually have been an agent in a previous life. I certainly suspect she is not a debut author as this is so well-written I have real trouble believing it is a first novel.
So I would leave you with this recommendation. If you like espionage fiction at all, or historical fiction set during World War II, give this book a try. You may love it. It certainly provides a picture of Spain during the war, which I was not familiar with.

I am fairly sure that the later books are much better, much more engaging.  I have read so many positive reviews of the next three books in the series, that I will definitely be reading the next book, Washington Shadow, set in 1945.

14 comments:

  1. TracyK: It sounds like it was a book to read if you wanted to go to sleep. I think I will wait for your next review of the author.

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    1. Bill, really it did not put me to sleep. But it was slow. Still I am not giving up on this author and hope I have good news when I read the next book.

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  2. Tracy, my ears prick every time I hear and read about espionage fiction and though the story of a British agent in Spain during WWII sounds interesting, I'm not sure I'll be picking up this book soon. I'll keep it in mind.

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    1. Prashant, I am like you, always attracted to espionage fiction. This one feels more realistic, and I usually like that.

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  3. Tracy - This does sound like a slow-burn kind of book, and you're not the only one who's read that verdict in other reviews. We'll see what the next offering is, but for now, I have to confess I"m with Bill. I'll wait and see.

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    1. Margot, I had to be honest but I did not want to turn people off of this series. I will have to try the 2nd one in the series soon.

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  4. I think that was a good helpful review, and your honesty does you credit. I have another one of this series on my list, I think, I might stick with that one.

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    1. Moira, although I like having the background of Peter Cotton's first assignment, it does seem like starting with a later book is better.

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  5. Books like this are hard to critique. Not boring but slow. Sounds like an interesting read but I think I like action in my books or plot twists or something to jump out at me. It's one of the things I've learned about myself last year. Oh, well, thanks for your honest assessment of your reading experience with it. Duly noted.

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    1. I agree, Keishon, I need something in a book to keep it moving. Maybe this was too realistic at times.

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  6. I have this at home and have seen a lot of mixed reviews for it, so it has kind of stayed in the pile. Not jumping out at me TBH, but I have it so it'll get read at some point.

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    1. Col, I am not sorry I read it, I hope it is a decent start to a really good series. But I would not push anyone into reading it.

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  7. I love Aly Monroe's books and I must make time to read some more of them.'Icelight' was wonderful

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    1. Sarah, I am looking forward to trying the next one, Washington Shadow.

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