Monday, July 12, 2010

Hemingway Cutthroat - Michael Atkinson

A literary twist on what really happened while Hemingway was in '30s Spain, developing the story of For Whom the Bell Tolls and solving a murder with John dos Passos When one of Fascist Spain's political officials is found dead on a hillside, his own government colleagues suspiciously take little interest in finding the culprit. Hemingway, in the country as a journalist, can't let the murder go. Despite the other deaths everywhere around him--it is wartime, after all--he sets out to discover not just who killed the man but also the reason for the cover-up.

Written with wit and charm, Hemingway Cutthroat is equal parts classic espionage thriller and literary origin story for one of Papa's most famous novels.

When offered the chance to review a book that was a mystery, set in the 1930s in Spain and with Hemingway as the main detective I couldn't really say no. It seemed like the most interesting story! This is actually the second book in a series of mysteries with Hemingway as the main character but it can certainly be read as a stand alone.

There seems to be a trend in historical fiction about using real people as fictional detectives. Besides Hemingway I can think of Elizabeth I, Jane Austen and Josephine Tey but I am sure that there must be others out there. It doesn't really bother unless when it clashes with the idea I have on my mind of the person involved. In this case Hemingway is just how I imagined him - loud, larger than life, a womaniser and a bullfight lover! I had every intention of rereading some of his books before delving into this one but, as if often happens, time flew and I didn't.

In Hemingway Cutthroat, Hemingway is in Spain with his friend, and fellow writer, John dos Passos. On a break from writing, he just wants to enjoy the easy life, he likes drinks and women and he seems set on getting as much as he can of both. But do Passos is worried, their friend José Robles has disappeared and he feels like they should investigate what really happened. It takes some time for Hemingway to decide to go investigating but when he does nothing can stop him!

They eventually find Robles' dead body and the unexplained circumstances behind it make Hemingway more determined to find what happened. He bribes and threatens his way around the Spanish police to discover whose side was Robles on. I quite liked the answer wasn't immediately obvious and that the motives were directly linked to what was being prepared at the time - the story is set in 1937 -  and what was one of the most famous bombings during the Spanish Civil War.

While I found the beginning a bit slow there were still some humourous moments to keep me interested and after the action progresses to the murder investigation I was completely hooked. Not only because of the mystery itself but also because of all the information provided of the situation in Spain during that time. And, since Atkinson's idea of Hemingway matches mine, I thought he made quite a believable detective. A very lucky one too, because on more than one occasion it seemed that his excesses, both of action and language, would land him in jail if not worse, but in the end all's well that ends well and this made for a satisfying read.

Grade: 4/5

This is an entry for the 1930s Mini Challenge!

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