A new publisher and one that doesn't believe in pulling punches with its first batch of releases and boy, am I glad for that. Here in this title by the author is a story that brings Spain to life for the reader, he brings the dark seedy underside into the light and when blended with the historical backdrop which the author adds in vivid technicolour really brings this story to the fore.
Add to this a cracking sense of pace, wonderful characterisation which when backed with a story that will keep you gripped from start to finish really makes this a very impressive title for me. I really hope that someone picks up the film rights to this as with all the twists and turns within backed up with the rich storytelling really makes this something that movie lovers will get a blast from.
Mark Oldfield says that the idea for "The Sentinel" came from talking to two elderly Spanish ladies about the Civil War, one from each side, living in the same city.
Mark Oldfield is a criminology researcher who has a real passion for Spain and his aim with this book , apart from producing a cracking historical thriller ,is to the compare two different Spain's-the Spain of 1953 and the modern Spain.
In the Spain of 2009 15 bodies have been found in an abandoned mine. The 15 bodies, we learn, had been buried in the early 1950s at a time when Franco is ruling Spain with an iron fist. One of his enforcers is a brute of a man - Comandante Guzmán. As Head of Franco's secret police - the Brigada Especial - Guzmán takes his orders directly from Franco himself, ensuring that those perceived as "enemies of the state" soon disappear.
The bulk of the plot is taken up with the appalling yet magnetic Guzmán but two other timelines run in this book with some chapters explaining how he came to be the Spanish Civil War "hero of Badajoz" and the third set in 2009 intruding us to Ana Mariá Galindez, a forensic scientist with the guardia civil who is asked to examine the 15 bodies, but her investigations lead her to want to know more about Guzmán.But it appears some others are more interested in preventing her achieving her aims.
While some may found the differing timelines jarring , I did not find the idea a problem, it was more the execution if you will forgive the Guzmán based pun. The 1953 timeline is so atmospheric , tense and riveting , dominated by the malevolent Guzmán that the other timelines pale in comparison , especially the contemporary one, which meanders a bit but ultimately showcases that evil and bad intentions resonate on down the years.
The First of a trilogy ,"The Sentinel" , share some noticeable parallels with another literary trilogy "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Men were portrayed as exerting their power in violent domineering ways and there was also a young, gay heroine. I doubt this series will have quite the same impact but this is still a compelling intelligently written thriller with a memorable central monster echoing from the Spanish civil war , rather like the loathsome Captain Vidal of "Pans labyrinth . Whilst in that film fantasy provides succour and escape from the evils of fascism in The Sentinel there is no escape, even many years down the line.
Ana Maria Galindez is a 21st century forensic investigator dealing with the fall out from the Spanish Civil War and in particular the actions in the 1950s of Comandante Guzman. This is a little explored time and interweaving three different eras into one story, an engrossing story at that and full of historical information. Some of the dialogue, especially during the earlier periods, might seem a little modern, as this is not a translation from a Spanish writer it is hard to confirm whether or not people of that time in Spain would use certain phrases and this might distract and jar from the story. Apart from that, although weighing in at a daunting 600 or so pages with a certain amount of violence, crime fiction fans will possibly enjoy a new direction and a new heroine in Galindez.
This is a mixture of a book - terrific in parts but with some serious flaws which get in the way of it being the excellent novel it could have been.
Three stories are told simultaneously. The central tale set in Madrid in 1953 is bleak, gripping and brilliant. The compelling central character is Guzman, an utterly unprincipled, self-serving torturer and murderer who directs a unit of secret police for Franco's repressive fascist dictatorship. The story is exceptionally well told, the atmosphere superbly conjured and the characters all horribly believable. There are also brief flashbacks to events in the Spanish Civil War during 1936, also well done and whose significance becomes clear late in the book.
Unfortunately, interspersed with these very good stories is a present-day tale of a forensic investigator and her two historian colleagues who are investigating Guzman's history and trying to piece together who he was and what happened in 1953. Sadly, I found this story trite, unconvincing and rather uninteresting. Mark Oldfield is trying to show parallels between Franco's truth-suppressing totalitarian regime and postmodernist historians who regard history as narrative with no objective truth, but an exercise in personal interpretation where the truth is just what you can persuade people to believe. Now, I regard this approach (and postmodernism in general) as a toxic intellectual pollutant, so I am absolutely in sympathy with Oldfield here - but, oh dear, it does go on. Plastic characters, endless indignation about oppressive attitudes, a silly plot...no matter how much I agreed with what was being said it was tedious and absurd, and it badly marred what could have been a really fine book.
I have given this four stars because the 1953 story was so good, but the modern one is two-stars at best. Frankly, I think you'd be best off skipping the present day bits: you'd miss almost nothing and could immerse yourself in a really good, informative and atmospheric historical thriller.
With a background of mystery, horror, thriller and historic novel `The Sentinel' is the first of a trilogy, and after a gripping roller-coaster read which concludes satisfactorily it still leaves plenty to come in the sequels. Narrative is divided into 3 main areas covering actions during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, repressions in 1953 in Madrid to keep Franco in power, and investigations in 2009 to determine who was responsible for atrocities with conflict between holding society to account and exposing individuals to blame.
Author Mark Oldfield makes good use of his studies in criminology, and his knowledge of Spain and its recent history to create credible characters and to evoke the cultural, social, political and religious nature of Spain - plus references to homosexuality and it's illegality! The main characters are Ana Maria Galindez as a forensic investigator with the Guardia Civil but involved in lesbian distractions, and Guzman as Comandante with the Secret Police and torn between loyalties to Franco and his own survival. The author readily encourages compassion for Ana Maria and her personal problems, and most skilfully he evokes empathy for Guzman as a malevolent yet magnetic villain. Guzman is evil to the point of being deranged and he influences everyone and exercises power in each of the 3 time periods. There is some repetition between periods and even a bit of fantasy to keep readers engaged, but it is the deeply disturbing storyline that is most gripping. In spite of vivid descriptions of torture to obtain information, executions, double dealing between factions etc. to instil fear and prop up a dictatorship the dialogue is often humorous and the relationships linking characters are entertainingly droll.
`The Sentinel' is an ambitious and intelligent piece of writing but as a minor criticism - readers may be irritated by the volume of Spanish incorporated in the text. Translation is generally clear but this distracts from the wonderfully interweaving storylines. It may be difficult to classify `The Sentinel' but always it is a compelling and gripping piece of fiction based on real places and events. Bring on the sequels!
What most impressed me about The Sentinel was the sense of reality Mark Oldfield injected into the historical aspects of his novel. There are great comparisons between Spain of 1953, the age of Franco, and the modern Spain we're more familiar with.
The mystery begins with the discovery of 15 bodies buried in a mine during the 1950s when Franco held power over Spain. Oldfield takes us back to the time of Franco and it's here we meet up with the terrible Commandante Guzman, head of the secret police, whose speciality was the 'disappearance' of anyone reported to be an enemy of the State. To bring us back to more modern times, and link the time frames together, Oldfield uses the character of Maria Galindez, forensic scientist, who arrives to examine the bodies from the mine. As Maria delves deeper into her investigations she develops a fascination with Guzman but; it soon becomes clear many are willing to prevent her from looking too closely. Why?
Without a doubt the strongest element of The Sentinel is the character of Guzman. Oldfield has made an exceptional job of creating his lead character as both malevolent and truly evil without once reducing him to 'demonic' and that must have been such a temptation. I enjoyed the method Oldfield employed of leaving a trail of information, snippets, about Guzman throughout the plot. Adds a huge amount of intrigue as you peel back layer after layer of mystery and uncover the man behind the myth.
If I'm being totally honest I found the 1950s timeline much more atmospheric and better written simply because it's dominated by Guzman. Oldfield hasn't captured enough of that dark shadow in his modern timeline and there are occasions when the plot begins to drag when Guzman isn't central to it. I think that was inevitable. As the first novel in a proposed trilogy, almost 600 pages long, I'm not sure Mark Oldfield hasn't already exhausted the subject and I'd be interested in finding out what else he can add to the mix while keeping the plot alive. That won't be an easy task. Hopefully he'll leave behind some of the 'time travel' and concentrate more on atmosphere and tension.
The Sentinel is intelligent and unique but; there's just something missing for a book promising such darkness and mystery. I'm giving 3* and not 4* simply because I found myself scanning and flipping page after page of forensic investigation and political intrigue until I was back in the 1950s with Guzman. This really is a book of two halves.
on 27 February 2014
The Sentinel takes the reader on a journey to understand how Spain was following the Spanish Civil War compared to present day. This is done through the eyes of Ana Maria Galindez, a present day forensic investigator and Comandante Guzman, a Franco-backed enforcer in the 1950s police force. Galindez is asked to analyse the forensics of a find which dates back to the time of Guzman, but others around her have a different view of what happened.
The book starts off well, with the reader presented with a backdrop suggesting where the story is heading (there is in fact a third timeline which folds in as well). Two irritations become immediately apparent:
- the author has taken to including bits of Spanish in the dialogue which, although they are generally only greetings or remarks which can be easily interpreted, they are a real nuisance to read, and distract from the story
- the author seems to have decided that all present-day women are lesbians and can't keep their hands off one another
As the narrative progresses, it gets steadily worse. The characters are unbelievable and it's very hard to be sympathetic to anyone, the twists are too sudden and quite unnecessary, it's not very well written (I found myself reading some paragraphs several times to get a feel of what the author means), and as the story develops it becomes less and less a biography on Spain. In fact, having got to the end I have no idea what the author is trying to deliver... the central storyline is weak, the backdrop of Spain is not very well explored, the spanish vocabulary used is an irritation, and the ending is really very poor.
Despite that I enjoyed the first half of the book, but I felt it steadily got worse from there, to the point I couldn't wait to finish it. I doubt I will read the sequel.
on 13 January 2013
This is quite a story. I knew and had read some of the background to the Spanish Civil War, but I'll admit I hadn't given much thought to Spain under Franco's dictatorship following WW2. Not a pleasant story but a powerful one and it certainly kept me reading.
The main character in the 1953 and earlier timelines is Commandante Guzman of Special Security, a very choice piece of work indeed, but then there are few characters in this book I would want to spend time with. Guzman, and his friends (and enemies) are engaged in rounding up the often pathetic survivors of the Republicans, and this they do with the utmost brutality - and at the same time Franco flourishes and the country in general withers and starves. Bribery and double-dealing are rife and not even Guzman is safe, and his efforts to remain clear of his enemies on all sides form the main part of the book.
The modern story, set in 2009, features Ana Maria Galindez, forensic investigator and member of the guardia civil, who is investigating skeletons found in a disused mine near Madrid. She, and the other modern characters, do not have a lot more to recommend them than the ones from Franco's time, and I found Ana Maria herself uninspiring as she begins, with others, to investigate Guzman.
Guzman, however, is interesting for himself and for his uncertain past, and the man does have a certain magnetism, for all his crimes, which he sees as doing his job. Other characters, the Sarge and the young, more or less innocent Teniente Peralta are well fleshed out, but it is the story itself which kept me reading when I should have been doing something else.
One or two small quibbles; the 'joke' of Peralta and his cigarettes, and the straight from stock fortune teller could have been done without, and the story does end very abruptly. It is the first of a trilogy, of course: let's hope the next instalment comes out before this one fades too far back in my memory.
on 6 January 2013
The story covers three periods, the Spanish Civil war in 1936, Madrid in 1953 and 2009.
Dr Ana Maria Galindez is a forensic scientist, not long out of university eager to start her career in the guardia civil, she is becoming increasingly frustrated after all her training to be the one sent to investigate the remains of people killed in a war seventy five years ago. Sent to investigate a mass grave from the Franco era, Galindez becomes fascinated by a diary recording the details, arrests and executions under the control and orders of Comandante Guzman of the Brigada. She meets up with Profesora Luisa Ordonex, who is conducting an investigation into secret policeman Leopoldo Guzman who disappeared without trace in 1953.
The events of 1953 are narrated in the third person by Guzman. He is greatly feared. Reporting direct to Franco, he is there to remove anyone who opposes, or is even a possible threat to Franco. His approach to human life is cold and brutal. His methods of execution, inhuman. But Guzman has enemies who are keen to bring about his downfall.
The events of 1953 run con-currant with Ana Maria Galindez's investigation into Guzman, but there are people who would prefer that Guzman's secret ledgers remain hidden. Are the shadows of the past still haunting the present. Obsessed with her search, Ana Maria puts her life on the line in pursuit of her quest.
Not a comfortable book, portraying a vivid picture of a country torn by war and conflict, fear and poverty, but a powerful story meshing together the past and present, with a stunning climax.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes
This novel moves between the era of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, 1953 and the near present. If one needs anything to convince you about the horrors of that era and it's terrible legacy under Franco then this is certainly that novel.
The main protagonist of the novel is Commandante Guzman ,a very young army Officer in the Civil War, who becomes one of Franco's right hand men in the decades after. Franco does not want to forgive and forget,rather he wants to continue to reek havoc on anyone who may have had anything whatsoever to do with the Republican cause during the war. It seems no job is too awful for Guzman and his band of men, one of whom was released from a lunatic asylum and behaves as such.
In the near present, a University professor begins an investigation into Guzman, whilst a Police forensic scientist excavates a pile of old bodies in an old mine shaft. The novel reaches its crescendo with the discovered Guzman continuing to reek another form of revenge in a nail biting finale.
I really enjoyed this novel. It's lengthy, over 500 pages, so not for the faint hearted, but it is spun as an excellent yarn which keeps you wanting to read on. It's also a fascinating insight into the Spanish Civil War and its legacy. Bring on more novels like this, please.