After the stunning achievement of his Jew in Communist Prague (1997–98), Giardino returns to familiar territory—his ongoing character, Max Friedman, a reluctant spy whose adventures intersect with 20th-century politics across a number of continents.
In this first half of a two-part narrative, Friedman is drawn into the Spanish Civil War, which Giardino treats with the historical subtlety of someone who’s clearly read his Orwell, Dos Passos, and Koestler. He’s also studied the photos of Robert Capa, which provide much of the visual texture to this modern intrigue. Max, a Swiss businessman and former Lincoln Brigade member, is drawn back to Spain after the wife of his comrade, Guido Treves, an Italian volunteer, begs him to find her missing husband. A flashback establishes that Max values loyalty over military discipline, and Giardino harbors no illusions about the Communist Party’s role in stifling dissent within the ranks. Back in Spain, Friedman enlists the aid of a beautiful young journalist, her reckless photographer friend, and a brave brigadista from Ireland. Giardino’s visual effects, while not as dense as his re-creation of Prague, still lead to some stunning scenes, especially a wordless sequence in which Franco’s planes bombard a train headed to the front. And that’s where this initial installment leaves Max, back at the front, in search of his missing friend. Giradino’s mystery resonates with the internecine left-wing struggles of the time, though he clearly honors the heroism of the Republican cause.
Stylistically similar to Giardino’s previous work, this compelling narrative artfully plays with a question: Who’s spying for whom? And the cliff-hanging ending of this first half sustains our interest in the answer.