There is also, as Minaya quickly discovers, a mystery: Manuel and Solana were not only friends but also rivals for the beautiful artist's model Mariana Rios. Ultimately, she chose Manuel, but on the morning following their wedding night, she was accidentally shot dead when a gun fired by troops pursuing a fugitive across nearby rooftops struck her as she stood in her bedroom window. It is that death, rather than the execution of his poet-friend, that sent Manuel into seclusion, and he has maintained Mariana's room unchanged from the moment of her death.
It is while trespassing there that Minaya discovers the manuscript of Solana's last book, a novel, "Beatus Ille," which Franco's troops were thought to have burned after they shot the poet. Much of the second half of "A Manuscript of Ashes" is given over to Solana's story, which is not a novel but a gradual retelling of the tensions that ultimately brought the poet, his friend and the woman who was the object of their desires to disaster. How did Mariana really die and who was her killer? Beyond that is a deeper and far more mysterious betrayal -- or act of survival -- on which the novel's resolution ultimately turns.