'The facts are always written by the winning side. Don't you know that? Of course you do. You're a journalist Mister Telford.'
Set in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, The Assassin's Mark is an expertly paced thriller with extra thrills (seriously). Rather than get over-excited and give the plot away I'm going to let the blurb do the talking:
'September 1938. Spain's Civil War has been raging for two years, the outcome still in the balance. But rebel General Franco is so confident of winning that he has opened up battlefield tourism along the country's north coast.
Jack Telford, a reporter and self-professed Socialist, finds himself with an eccentric group of tourists on one of the War Route's yellow Chrysler buses. Driven by his passion for peace, Telford attempts to uncover the hidden truths beneath the conflict.
But Jack must contend first with his own gullibility, the tragic death of a fellow-passenger, capture by Republican guerrilleros, a final showdown at Spain's most holy shrine and the possibility that he has been badly betrayed. Betrayed and in serious danger.'
The Assassin's Mark starts as a formulaic crucible story - there is a bus and a group of less-than-trustworthy individuals. You just know something is going to go seriously wrong (which it does). Ebsworth uses this crucible with skill and keeps the tension simmering just below the surface throughout the novel, rising during each new stop on the bus tour.
The key element of this type of thriller is characterisation and Ebsworth gets it spot on. Each character is given depth and history and their individual personalities are revealed and developed as the story progresses. I definitely have a preference for character-led novels and here there is a good balance between character and plot. The main character Jack Telford is an interesting one. A journalist for a left-wing paper and more or less the only non-fascist in the group, the action is seen through his eyes. We are privy to his inner thought which are very journalistic and questioning - you can imagine that we are reading his news stories as he is writing them.
The Assassin's Mark appealed to me as history nerd as well as a reader. Ebsworth demonstrates his research into the Spanish Civil War brilliantly without it overpowering the story. Rather than outweighing the story, the facts enhance it by adding another layer of meaning and reason to the characters actions. I enjoyed reading the lively debates between characters and I was pleased that there was a good exploration of the Civil War and the run up to the Second World War. I often find politics a bit (very) dry and my eyes do tend to glaze over but that never quite happened here. There was enough of it to be interesting and not too much that it fell into a judgemental political retrospective.
The Assassin's Mark is a well balanced and well paced thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie (I even noticed a sneaky homage in there. Unintended maybe, but I appreciated it nonetheless). This is a book for anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War or anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel with a smattering of historical tidbits.
What do you think? Does this mix of history and mystery appeal to you?
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author for the purposes of this blog tour.