Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

Spain, 1940

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

The Watcher in the Pine

by Rebecca Pawel

Although the principle star of this story is male, I have included the book because of Elena Fernandez’s pivotal role in helping to find answers to the criminal activities surrounding the small mountain town of Potes. There is also the historical plus of Pawel’s keen look at the political conflicts which still engulfed the mountainous Picos de Europa region hugging the northern coast of Spain at the termination of the horrific Spanish Civil War. This tension is reflected in the “marriage of opposites” of Carlo Tejada, employed as a Guardia Civil Lieutenant in Dictator Francisco Franco’s Nationalist government, and his wife Elena, whose family is devoted to the defeated Republican cause, and who remains deeply sympathetic to the left-wing guerrillas (the Maquis).

In this third Carlo Tejada story, the now pregnant Elena and her husband have been sent to his new post in a strongly Republic region engaged in smuggling and Maquis activities, or banditry depending on your political stance. Sporadic shots are fired at the Guardia Civil officers who are expected to pressure the hostile locals into revealing possible connections between the Maquis and international concerns. As an educated ex-teacher from the city of Salamanca, Elena has a particularly hard time adjusting to her new environment, only finding companionship through her frowned upon contacts with a Maquis prisoner of her social and intellectual level.

The 1940s era position of women in Spain is dramatically highlighted on two occasions. One is when Elena, who wants to help start a school and occupy herself by teaching, is informed by the local priest, the primary education authority, that work away from home would be considered too unnatural for a wife and new mother. The second is when Carlo in a moment of anger reminds Elena of his rights as a husband to send the baby to his parents to be raised, or to get rid of Elena by sending her back to Salamanca, keeping the child for himself. Divorce, of course, was unthinkable.

Yet, Carlo is no beast. He fully understands the extent to which Elena’s past involvement with the “Reds” has limited his career advancement. In spite of that, his love and desire to protect her finally rules the day. Ultimately, when the couple work together, they manage to find the needed insights into Potes’ criminal activities.

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