Monroe, Aly - 'The Maze of Cadiz'
In Aly Monroe's first novel THE MAZE OF CADIZ, set in late 1944, Peter Cotton is sent by British Intelligence to Cadiz to relieve the resident agent R A May of his duties, close the office and arrest May if necessary.
But May's dead body has been dragged from the sea and as Cotton wanders through a miserable and very hot Cadiz the enigmatic policeman Ramirez seems to follow him everywhere. When Cotton learns from Ramirez that May's young boyfriend has deserted the army and is possibly heading for Cadiz the story moves to its overdue climax.
Monroe is trained in linguistics, specialising in phonetics, and has a career in voice coaching for Spanish actors. I find this interesting in view of the constant passages of difficult to read dialogue in this novel.
Monroe is quoted as saying that she has "read Graham Greene and Eric Ambler but a direct reaction here is Geoffrey Household". I can't see that influence myself and if you enter territory occupied by Greene and Ambler as well as by Alan Furst and Philip Kerr, you have set yourself a very high standard to emulate. I am afraid Monroe fails because her characters are unsympathetic, her plot is flimsy and her long-winded dialogue and travelogue of Cadiz are just not interesting and don't create the required atmosphere.
I don't like slamming a novel, especially a first novel, but if most of the book concerns Cotton and his relationship with the policeman Ramirez you have to make at least make those characters interesting. It does not matter if they are unpleasant or unscrupulous but you have to make the reader care about them. I am not sure whether it was the writing style or the weak plot that caused me to find this book a total bore. I also don't like my heroes to behave like Peter Cotton and give no real reason for some quite bizarre actions. If you are looking for a good spy thriller, I am sorry, but this book falls a long way short of the target.
Norman Price, England