You've written four books set in Franco's Spain, the latest being The Summer Snow. Do you think of them as mysteries or historical novels?

The first book was definitely intended as mystery. The setting was perfect for the kind of plot I wanted. After that, it became the story of the various characters' lives, fleshing out details about how various people react to historical and personal circumstances. One could say the last three are historicals that happen to be mysteries.

Do you have any personal connection to Spain?

Honestly, I knew very little about Spain, and certainly was unaware of any personal connection when I first went there as a teenager. Then that summer my grandfather described Spain as one of his all-time favorite countries, and told me about his friends who had joined the International Brigade. He also died that summer, so my memories of my first trip to Spain—although they're very positive—are also bittersweet, because they're overshadowed by his death.

Is your main character, the detective Carlos Tejada, a moral man?

I once defined Tejada as "a bad person who thinks he's a good person." I think that definition will serve. The irony—and this is quite conscious—is that Tejada becomes more moral as he abandons his principles. He becomes less interested in abstractions and more interested in people, and this moves him away from his hard-line ideology.

Do your readers have specific ideas about Tejada?

Women tend to think Tejada is very attractive. Men are more willing to consider him a bit of a bastard. My favorite conversation was with someone at Soho Press who said, "Is Tejada handsome? I've read all four books and you don't really say what he looks like." "Do you think he's handsome?" I asked her. "Oh, I think he's hot," she replied, without any hesitation. I was very flattered.

What are you working on now?

A historical novel about the Spanish in Flanders in the late 16th century. It's from the Flemish point of view. It's set in Ghent in 1577, when the city briefly proclaimed itself an independent republic, on the Italian city-state model, and tried to get out from under Spanish imperial domination. Spain started the ensuing war as the undisputed economic, political and cultural leader of Europe. It ended as a cultural backwater with a stagnating economy and never recovered its political prestige. Not that the novel deals with all that. Just with an old woman who's the widow of a Spanish soldier and in danger of losing her home.