The shadow of Franco, by Mark Oldfield


The shadow of Franco, by Mark Oldfield

Mark Oldfield is the author of the CWA Dagger-shortlisted The Sentinel, the first in a crime trilogy that explores the dark heart of Spain. The concluding volume, The Deadhas just been published in hardback.

Is history repeating itself? Headlines on Catalonia’s attempted referendum seem to suggest so, invoking memories of Franco’s dictatorship and his unwavering belief that the regions of Spain were indivisibly bound to Spain by sacred ties. Certainly, the Generalissimo did his best to suppress regional languages and culture, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque country. It’s safe to say that were he alive today, Franco would approve of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s decision to send in a vast force of riot police to prevent the Catalan referendum. Probably his only criticism would be that they didn’t go in hard enough.

My first visit to Spain in 1975, a year after the death of Franco, provided me with an introduction to Spanish policing tactics. Within an hour of arriving in Pamplona to attend the annual Fiesta of San Fermin, we were fleeing a horde of grey-clad Police carrying batons and cycle chains which they used to brutal effect on both demonstrators and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

Although, we would witness similar - and worse - scenes on those cobbled streets, I was fascinated by the idea of a country struggling to shake off Franco’s malign grip. So fascinated, in fact, that when I started writing a crime novel a few years ago, Franco’s Spain provided an ideal setting, with Franco as the Godfather of a criminal state. Because under Franco, crime flourished, creating a massive black market and a society riddled with corruption and nepotism.

In Franco’s Spain, anything was for sale. When the Americans built bases for their nuclear bombers in Spain, to provide fast access to Russia in the event of war, Franco allowed the bases to be constructed near large towns and cities, interested only in the profit to be made on the deal and disregarding the likely consequences of a nuclear response from the Russians.

Once I began to recreate Franco as a mobster, it was hard to know where to stop. The black market in adulterated penicillin after the war, the thriving business in selling children, that started out by giving the children of dead Republicans to childless Franco supporters - a business that prospered so much that Maternity clinics began to develop a more aggressive version, stealing babies from their mothers, telling the mothers the child had died. And when the parents complained to the police, strangely, the police were unable to find any trace of such practices.

But perhaps Franco’s greatest mistake was his rigorous persecution of the Basques, banning their language and their flag and in doing so, provoking a resistance movement -ETA- that mutated into a murderous force involved in kidnapping and murder, extorting money from local businesses for its ‘Revolutionary Tax’ or protection money as most would call it as well as claiming the lives of ordinary citizens, moderate town councillors and business people as well as Police and Civil Guards.

By the time I’d finished examining the criminal legacy of Franco’s rule, the novel became into a trilogy. The protagonist, Comandante Leopoldo Guzmán was based on a psychopathic Civil Guard named Lisardo Doval who had been a friend of Franco at Military school and who loyally killed and tortured Franco’s opponents with relish.

Though the Dictator only has a walk on role in the books, his presence permeates the lives of the other characters throughout, shaping choices and opportunities according to which side they were when Franco carried out his greatest heist of all: the theft of the Spanish State from its people.

And even now, if Madrid continues to send in its police into Catalonia like an occupying army, it runs the risk of proving violent resistance just as Franco did in the Basque country. One that genie is let out of the bottle, it takes a long time to get it back in again. Hopefully, sense will prevail and that won’t happen. It’s time for the shadow Franco cast over Spain to fade into history.

Mark Oldfield is the author of The Vengeance of Memory Trilogy.

The Sentinel is available in hardback, paperback and ebook

The Exile is available in hardback, paperback and ebook

The Dead is available in hardback, and ebook