The Time in Between is an historical romance, but it is also a spy novel with a finely-drawn female protagonist and an exciting adventure story. Dueñas’ book opens with just enough back story to give a strong sense of her protagonist, Sira Quiroga. Then, once we really like the girl and wish her the best in life—this takes less than a paragraph—the author piles problem after problem on the girl: An unmarried mother. Poverty in post-World War I Madrid. A nonexistent father. A seduction that makes you cringe because you see it coming for chapters and can’t make yourself look away. And then there is history….
Dueñas has set all this against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, a tragic prelude to the approaching global conflict. She spares Sira the worst of the horrors of civil war by placing her in the Spanish Protectorate, the corner of Africa directly across the strait of Gibraltar, but the protectorate serves mostly as an incubator. Sira loses her innocence there, but she also takes her first steps into a bold and confident womanhood. She needs every bit of strength she finds there because her next step is back to a Madrid populated by Nazi soldiers, diplomats, spies, and their sympathizers.
The book is very well reviewed. The historical and political backdrops are meticulously researched. It isn’t possible to read the book without loving the heroine, even as she behaves most foolishly. The other characters are, for the most part, well drawn and believable. The action is generally finely tuned. The villains are as despicable as you would expect. They lack depth, but after all, they are Nazis, stock characters in this corner of the literary landscape.
The Time in Between is both a compelling read and a rewarding read. The author has a deft touch with plot and an excellent eye for character. It is remarkably strong for a first novel. Only an occasional adherence to the conventions of the romantic heroine weakened the work: conspirators rarely conspire without looking behind the sofa for accidental eavesdroppers, for instance, and Sira should have been able to save herself at one point when the author provided her with a convenient and very fortuitous savior. Despite these cavils, this is a very good book. Sira matures over the course of the story into a woman any man would want to know, and she possesses, in the end, a character and a future any woman could envy.