cover image LAW OF RETURN


Rebecca Pawel, . . Soho, $24 (274pp) ISBN 978-1-56947-343-6

Like Pawel's impressive debut, Death of a Nationalist (2003), this sequel makes fine use of local color and scenic detail to evoke its unusual setting, post–Civil War Spain ("The fields were the color of cornhusk dolls, not a healthy golden yellow, but a pale, anemic reminder of green"). Alas, the plot doesn't carry the same punch as its predecessor. Series hero Lt. Carlos Tejada Alonso y León, a member of the feared and detested Guardia Civil in Madrid, has been transferred to Salamanca to monitor parolees. When one of his charges, Manuel Arroyo Díaz, disappears, Tejada follows the missing man's trail to Biarritz and is reunited with his former lover, Elena Fernández. Elena is now involved in a political matter concerning her classics professor father and his Jewish friend, Professor Meyer, who's in danger of being forced to return to Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Díaz turns up dead with his head bashed in, his body identified from the cards in his wallet. Tejada investigates, but soon realizes more is at stake than mere murder. The author captures the anomie of postwar Spain while eschewing excess bloodshed, but the deliberate pace and relative inaction will frustrate readers expecting a more conventional crime novel. One can only hope Lt. Tejada's next assignment will prove more absorbing. (Feb.)