Pawel, Rebecca 1977- (Rebecca C. Pawel)
Pawel, Rebecca 1977- (Rebecca C. Pawel)
Writer, novelist, and educator. High School for Enterprise, Business, and Technology, Brooklyn, NY, teacher of English and journalism.
Edgar Allan Poe Award, Best First Novel by an American Author, Mystery Writers of America, 2004, for Death of a Nationalist.
Death of a Nationalist, Soho Press (New York, NY) 2003.
Law of Return, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2004.
The Watcher in the Pine, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2005.
The Summer Snow, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Rebecca Pawel, a high school teacher in Brooklyn, NY, uses the turmoil of the end of the Spanish Civil War as the setting for her first novel, a mystery entitled Death of a Nationalist. Madrid in 1939 is a damaged and dreary landscape filled with demolished buildings, bomb craters, and sparsely populated streets. Resentment and hatred of the atrocities committed by the fascist-supported Nationalists and the Communist-backed Republicans still seethe among the population. In this context, the Guardia Civil is tasked with maintaining order. That order breaks down, however, when Sergeant Carlos Tejada Alonzo y Leon assumes that the woman bending over the corpse of his friend, Paco Lopez, is his murderer, when in fact she was retrieving a notebook from the body. Carlos kills the woman and realizes his mistake, then becomes determined to find out the deadly importance of the notebook. In a parallel story, Gonzalo Llorente is released from prison only to discover that his lover, Viviana, has been murdered by a member of the Guardia Civil, apparently the woman that Carlos killed in his fit of mistaken rage. Gonzalo vows to find the guard who killed Viviana, which sets him and Carlos on a collision course that culminates in both characters' search for redemption at the novel's climax.
The "intertwined fates" of Gonzalo and Carlos "are handled with unusual skill and subtlety," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A Kirkus Reviews critic called Death of a Nationalist "an intriguing juxtaposition of the political and the personal." The brutalities of war are accurately and unsparingly depicted, but Pawel shows how powerful "little civilities and kindnesses" can be in such a bleak and violent atmosphere, the Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, also adding that the book "easily transcends the formulaic crime story."
In a New York Sun profile of Pawel, the author told interviewer Ilya Marritz that her success as a novelist "came as the result of a casual email tossed off to a college professor, Persephone Braham, during a vacation in Spain in the summer of 2000," Marritz wrote. Pawel asked Braham if she could pick up some books for her while she was in Spain. Braham responded that she did not need any particular titles, but would be interested in any murder mysteries set in Madrid. Pawel wrote back to say she could not find any, but "that a crime novel set in Madrid shortly after the end of General Franco's siege of the Spanish capital would be a fabulous idea," Marritz related. Encouraged by Braham to write just such a novel, Pawel undertook the project, which resulted in her debut, Death of a Nationalist.
Pawel's later novels have continued to take place in Franco-era Spain. In Law of Return, the sequel to Death of a Nationalist, Pawel "makes fine use of local color and scenic detail to evoke its unusual setting, post-Civil War Spain," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In this novel, protagonist Carlos has been transferred to Salamanca, where his assignment is to monitor parolees.
The disappearance of one of the men he was watching, Manuel Arroyo Diaz, takes Carlos to Biarritz, where he is reunited with his former lover, Elena Fernandez. Elena has become involved in a delicate political situation involving her father, a professor of classics, and a Jewish friend, Professor Meyer, who faces being forced to return to Nazi Germany. When Diaz, a former professor, is found dead, Carlos investigates, and soon realizes that the situation has greater significance, and more danger, than represented by the murder of one man. "Politics and wartime inquisitions notwithstanding, romance rules the day," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.
By the opening of The Watcher in the Pine, Carlos and Elena are married and expecting their first child. They are headed to a new posting: Carla will be commander of the Guardia Civil in Potes, a Spanish city devastated by the war. Political enemies, including the maquis, are plentiful in the area, and Carlos is not welcomed warmly at his new post. The situation acquires new urgency when Elena and the couple's newborn son are kidnapped. Carlos's desperate investigation uncovers a multitude of crimes, including the murder of the previous Guardia commander, corruption, theft, smuggling, and arms trafficking. Conflicts with his in-laws, who are distinctly unhappy to have a son-in-law involved with Franco's military, make matters even worse. The theft of two cases of dynamite and the necessity of dealing with determined local guerillas make Carlos's job even more difficult. Pawel "surrounds her mystery plot with a vivid re-creation of the political environment in postwar Spain" and consideration of the effort and sacrifices necessary to make a marriage successful, commented Booklist reviewer Barbara Bibel. A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that the book is "equal parts history lesson and crime novel, displaying both offhand cruelty and welcome depth." A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that "both time and place … are impeccably rendered" in Pawel's novel.
Carlos investigates a suspicious death in his family in The Summer Snow. His great-aunt, Rosalia, had long declared that the Communists had been trying to kill her. Few believed the aged and difficult old lady—fewer still even liked her—but her sudden death inspires her nephew to ask his son, Carlos, to investigate. As he looks into the matter in his hometown, Carlos discovers that the most recent copy of his aunt's will has vanished, and that the possibly deranged old woman may have been poisoned. Suspects abound and include disinherited children, abused servants, and even Carlos's father.
"This beguiling novel will richly reward lovers of both mysteries and mainstream literary fiction," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Detroit Free Press reviewer Ron Bernas noted that Pawel "keeps the tension high and the surprises coming," concluding that "this is another winner." Pawel "mixes solid mystery plotting with powerful evocations of Spanish landscape and the postwar era," remarked Bibel in another Booklist review. Jo Ann Vicaral, writing in the Library Journal, mused that "Pawel's books just keep getting better and better."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2004, Barbara Bibel, review of The Watcher in the Pine, p. 712; December 15, 2005, Barbara Bibel, review of The Summer Snow, p. 28.
Detroit Free Press, February 15, 2006, Ron Bernas, review of The Summer Snow.
Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 2006, Gilbert Cruz and Thom Geier, review of The Summer Snow, p. 81.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Death of a Nationalist, p. 1574; December 1, 2003, review of Law of Return, p. 1384; January 15, 2005, review of The Watcher in the Pine, p. 87; December 1, 2005, review of The Summer Snow, p. 1259.
Library Journal, February 1, 2006, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of The Summer Snow, p. 57.
New York Sun, December 21, 2004, Ilya Marritz, "This Brooklyn Teacher Has a Mysterious Second Career," profile of Rebecca Pawel.
New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2005, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime: O Brother, Where Art Thou?," review of The Watcher in the Pines.
Publishers Weekly, December 2, 2002, review of Death of a Nationalist, p. 36; January 12, 2004, review of Law of Return, p. 40; November 29, 2004, review of The Watcher in the Pine, p. 26; December 19, 2005, review of The Summer Snow, p. 45.
Wisconsin Bookwatch, May, 2005, review of The Watcher in the Pine.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (April 15, 2007), review of The Summer Snow.
Rebecca Pawel Home Page,http://www.rebeccapawel.com (April 15, 2007).
Soho Press Web site,http://www.sohopress.com/ (April 15, 2007).