In Slow Lightning by Mark Frutkin (Raincoast) we meet Sandro Cénovas, a student who is caught in the middle when civil war erupts in Spain. Threatened with arrest or conscription, Sandro flees Barcelona on a borrowed bicycle and heads for the coastal village of Arcasella, where his parents live. As Sandro pedals through the countryside dodging Guardia Civil roadblocks, he is pursued by a diligent but portly police officer who is also riding a bike. Along the way Sandro is helped by gypsies who show him a secret route, a priest who gives him a set of robes for a disguise and a Canadian with whom he spends five nights in a tree. But when Sandro finds out that even his own village is not safe, he hides out in a cave. There, enveloped by darkness, he holds onto his sanity by covering the walls with paintings. The change from humour to pathos is handled so skillfully that I didn’t mind leaving behind the heat and light of the Spanish countryside for the darkness of the cave, but when the story jumped forward to modern times the dialogue became stilted and the writing lost its momentum. Good thing the last section takes less than a quarter of the book, because the rest of it is worth reading—more than once.