Reader’s Review: The Sentinel
Reading a book is an intensely personal experience. Preferences and tastes, history and personality all play a part in how we each interpret a book. As part of our forensic look into The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger shortlist we asked our Dead Good Reviewers to take a look at the four short-listed titles and share with us their honest opinions on the books.
Over to Alison, John and Joanne!
The Sentinel by Mark Oldfield
‘I was a bit wary of a debut novel of nearly 600 pages but I was drawn in early in the first few chapters. I am also not normally a fan of more than one time line and to find three time lines I initially felt that I was not going to enjoy the book but I soon found that I was eagerly turning the pages of all three time lines and only slightly disappointed when I had to move on from one exciting plot to another.
The book was well written with well rounded and believable characters and excellent descriptions. However, I found some of the subject matter slightly disturbing to think it was such recent history and wonder as to how much is fact and fiction! I also found some of the Spanish phrases that weren’t explained somewhat distracting as I then had to Google the translation before moving on. Gallindez is a true heroine however and I will look forward to reading the following two books in the series.’
‘The Spanish Civil War is not a subject that occurs often in books, other than in history text books or those with a prelude to the Second World War. This is certainly the first book that I have read that concentrates on that particularly unhappy period of history.
My knowledge of the subject is also limited, coloured by some tales of The International Brigade, Picasso’s painting of Guernica and arguably the most famous photograph ever, that by Robert Capra of a nationalist soldier at the time of his death, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation, not to say curiosity, that I approached this book.
The Sentinel is a book that flows through time, in that there are passages that are set during the civil war, passages set post war and the main narrative is set in or around present day. It can be an unwieldy construct but it works exceedingly well here.
The story is told through various eyes. Primarily it is the story of a police forensic officer who has – despite her brilliance and high level contacts – been assigned a dead end job, (pun intended). That job is the examination, exhumation and identifying remains of grave sites and bodies from alleged atrocities committed during the conflict. The heroine is shown to be emotionally flawed and a trifle fragile, unwise in her relationships (she is a lesbian but tries hard to keep her sexuality secret in a macho organisation) and beset by both doubts about her job, the organisation and troubled by memories of her late father, who was assassinated.
Other narrators are the ostensible villain and an unidentified observer to the atrocities. Their narrative adds to and melds with the main thrust of the story, giving context and value to the incidents.
It is an unusual story, and one that is well told. I found it gripping and exciting, certainly one of the better books I have read in a long while. The author has clearly researched his subject thoroughly and writes excellent prose, throwing in enough Spanish to remind the reader of the setting without obscuring the flow of the narration. A very good book indeed.’
‘A gripping book which was hard to put down, I loved the way it was set in 1953 and 2009, with flash backs to 1936, the two eras entwined adding more depth to the book. Guzman is described brilliantly in the book, I could almost feel the evil that surrounded him, only occasionally were there glimpses of weakness, and the fact that he was actually human. Galindez, the main modern day character was well described, I found myself warming to her although maybe not as much as I should of, as occasionally she was a little irritating, but that in no way spoilt my love of the book. The descriptions in this book were so vivid there were many times shivers ran down my spine, the horror and gore of the awful deeds carried out are portrayed so well I found myself thinking about the book long after I had put it down. For anyone who loves a book to get your heart racing I would recommend this without hesitation.’
A big thank you to our Dead Good Reviewers Alison, John and Joanne for reviewing The Sentintel.