This is sort of an open section, which I hope readers (surfers?) will contribute to with their questions. As it gets longer, I've tried to organize it roughly by book. The first questions deal with Death of a Nationalist. I've also added a section dealing with questions/issues with Law of Return.
WARNING: These questions contain major spoilers. If you haven't read the books yet, don't read them!
The big question: When will there be more books in the series? (Varied as, “will there be more books in the series?” “When will you write more about Tejada?” and “How come there haven't been any books for years?”)
Answer: There are a couple of reasons.
First: I love series as much as the next person, but I also know that they get stale. When you read the tenth or twentieth book of a series you may enjoy the comforting formula, but you know it's a formula. The same is true when you write the books. I had a lot of fun writing this series, but I was getting too comfortable with the characters, and the situation. Things that were a shock in the first book were routine by the fourth.
That leads to the second reason: I believe that the four novels (and the anthology of short stories) are essentially about the character arc of Carlos Tejada. He evolves a good deal from an essentially lonely, angry young man (who like many angry, lonely twenty-somethings tends to look on his fellow creatures with some disdain) into a mature husband and father. He also evolves from the absolute ideological certainty of his youth into a more skeptical political observer. But I don't think he is capable of changing more without becoming an entirely different character.
In fact, the end of The Summer Snow is about Tejada confronting the limits of his own evolution. Without getting too spoilery, the end of The Summer Snow was heavily influenced by the end of Dorothy Sayers' novel Busman's Honeymoon (also the last of a four book series about a couple who are eventually married, and also the last of a longer series of novels about Lord Peter Wimsey). It's intended to be a tragic ending (much more so than Law of Return or The Watcher in the Pine). (Tejada himself is almost implausibly well read in Spanish literature, and he certainly wouldn't know English-language drama, but the appropriate quote about the end of The Summer Snow really comes from Claudius in Hamlet: “What form of prayer can serve my turn?/ 'Forgive me my foul murder'?/That cannot be; since I am still possessed/Of those effects for which I did the murder,/My crown, mine own ambition and my queen./May one be pardoned and retain the offense?” Like Claudius, Tejada has the guts to commit to fratricide, but not the ability to live with himself afterward.) I didn't want to write the story of how Tejada slowly compromises with an increasingly uneasy conscience as the maquis in northern Spain are mercilessly hunted down and annihilated. The war against the anti-Franco guerrillas was long and dirty, and realistically Tejada would have had a good deal more on his conscience by the time of his retirement (right around the Transition after Franco's death). That period is dealt with a little in the short stories, but I'm shy of writing about it, because it's very vivid in most Spaniards' memories, and I don't want to get stuff wrong.
I would love to claim that I planned the tetralogy to fit with the seasons of the year (early spring in Death of a Nationalist, high summer in Law of Return, winter in The Watcher in the Pine and closing with an appropriately somber autumn in The Summer Snow) but in point of fact historical events dictated the time period of the first two novels and the last one, and the third was more or less coincidental. But like Mark Twain, I lay copyright to any interpretations made within fifty years of my lifetime.
A few of the things people always ask about Death of a Nationalist:
1. Why did you write Death of a Nationalist? (Also varied as "What inspired you to write Death of a Nationalist?" "Where did you get the idea for Death of a Nationalist?" and "What is an American girl doing writing about the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Civil war?")
Short Answer: Why not?
Long Answer: In the summer of 2000 I traveled through Spain and
Portugal. While I was there, I e-mailed a friend and former
professor, asking her if she wanted me to pick up any books for her
while I was near Spanish bookstores. She responded that she
didn't need books, but asked if I had any ideas about mysteries set
in Madrid, because she was preparing to teach a course called
"Detective Fiction and the City." (I always regretted
not having the opportunity to take the course.) We continued a
friendly e-mail conversation about mysteries throughout my trip, and
after I returned. At some point, the medieval mysteries of
Ellis Peters came up, and I recommended One Corpse Too Many,
the story of a murder which is committed at the end of a long siege
in a bloody civil war, and the two men on opposite sides of the war
who end up working together to solve the murder, each for his own
reasons. The plot of One Corpse Too Many somehow got
mixed up in my mind with the idea of murder mysteries set in Madrid,
and the idea of Madrid and a siege came together in 1939. I had
just finished my Masters Degree, and was working at Columbia's
Administrative Information Services, but didn't have a teaching job
for the fall. So I had a lot of time on my hands, a computer
available to do web research, and an excellent reason to want to
escape reality. I wrote my idea for a post-civil-war noir novel
set in Madrid to my professor, and she suggested writing the book.
So I did.
2. Why is Tejada such a *&^% bastard?
The answer to this depends on how I'm feeling at the moment. I should start out by saying that Tejada was NOT conceived as the hero of the first book, much less of the series, although the series is his biography. He's an anti-hero, and although he's honorable, conscientious, and basically honest, he's not supposed to be sympathetic -- at least, not in the first book, although I believe he gets more so as the series continues. (I can always tell a reviewer won't like the book when he refers to Tejada as "Carlos." I don't refer to Tejada by his first name, and there's a reason for that.)
Also, remember that Death of a Nationalist was written mostly in the summer of 2000, immediately after the verdict completely exonerating Amadou Diallou's killers. (For those of you who are from outside of New York City: Amadou Diallou was a young African immigrant, who was shot to death outside his house by three policemen, for no particular reason.) The trial of his murderers was held outside of New York City, and the verdict brought the city together in grief, outrage, and fear. I knew (and still know) a number of members of the NYPD who generally strike me as decent, honest people, trying to do a job that they feel is important. I wanted to understand how a decent, humane, honest person could reach the point of shooting another person in cold blood, and feeling no immediate remorse. Thus, Tejada.
Finally, on my bad days, I just say that Tejada is my evil alter-ego.
3. What are the literary influences for the series? What books influenced you?
Aside from the above-mentioned Ellis Peters mystery (the second in the Brother Cadfael series), I think the only literary precedent for the series is Delano Ames' novel The Man in the Tricorn Hat, a hardboiled mystery of the 1950s, starring a young guardia civil on the rapidly developing Costa del Sol. It's the first of a series, which begins by being charming, and rapidly becomes dull, not least because Ames manages to completely ignore the political realities of Spain in the early 50s.
The second book, Law of Return, is heavily influenced by a beautiful Spanish novel by Carmen Martín Gaite, El cuarto de atrás, available in English as The Back Room Fortunately, I had not read Antonio Muñoz Molina's thriller Beltenebros (Prince of Shadows), or Javier Cercas' Soldados de Salamina (Soldiers of Salamis) when I started the series, because they say all there is to be said about the themes of the books, with considerably more grace, and I would never have had the courage to keep writing.
Questions about Law of Return
1. Is the marriage at the end of the book actually going to take place? (Also varied as: "Is she going to dump him?" " She's going to dump him, right?" and "How could you let her marry him?") (added May 5, 2004)
It's a little awkward to answer this question before the third book comes out (in which some of the questions will be answered) but since a lot of the people who asked (or rather accused) me about it seemed so disgusted by the second book that I was afraid they wouldn't pick up the third, I wanted to quickly reply now.
A lot of the (otherwise very kind) reviews of Law of Return said that I had "caved" by making the book implausibly romantic. It is a romance, and I'm glad that people are emotionally involved with the characters, but I'd like to point out that except in the gushiest of romance novels and Disney movies, getting married does not necessarily mean living happily ever after. It means getting married. In the society portrayed in the books, it also means not getting divorced too easily. That's all that it means.
Furthermore, one of my pet peeves with a number of detective series (whose names I do not wish to remember) is the protagonist's never-ending on-again/off-again relationship with a love interest who always is on the point of becoming permanent. After a few books, the suspense becomes non-existent, because you know that they're either going to break up at the end of the book and get together in the next one, or get rapturously together at the end of the book and then have tragedy strike in the next installment. But either way it's boring. I also think it's unrealistic. How many times around on this merry-go-round would you go in real life before you decided to get off?
Return to main page