Heat suffuses Monroe's first novel, set in the stultifying atmosphere of Cadiz in September 1944. While set during World War II the context is almost irrelevant – by late '44 the war feels already over, from the perspective of south-western Spain the titanic conflict looks like little more than the combatants going through the motions. This is echoed in the slow pace of life against which the small personal tragedies, otherwise lost in the greater tide of history, unfold. The triumph of the story is that really, even had the grand conspiracy not been foiled the chances are the ultimate course of history would have been completely unchanged.
The protagonist, Cotton, a seemingly reluctant British intelligence officer with a mundane assignment is a curious character. At times he comes across as almost Pooterish, struggling with catering on Spanish trains, embarrassed by the social mores of expatriate life, yet at others he seems a debonair man of the world, and almost James Bond like in his approach. The other characters, not least the aged antique book dealer, the foppish policeman, and the borderline incompetent diplomat, are all somewhat more two dimensional, however their interactions and dialogue inherently work, and serve to keep the pace going through the slow background.
It's not Alan Furst, and stylistically it, at times, reads too much like a lesson in conversational Spanish, but it serves to immerse the reader in an interesting part of Spain in the shadow of the civil war.
Perhaps most fascinating for me was the realisation that while Alan Furst's typically cold works are best read with a slate grey sky and the threat of stinging rain, “The Maze of Cadiz” with its immersive warmth can be readily enjoyed in cold British January.