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  • Reviews for Liar Moon by Ben Pastor
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Reviews for Liar Moon by Ben Pastor
'Originally published in 2001, this is the first edition of Liar Moon available in this country, and the second in the Martin Bora detective series. Aristocrat Bora is a Major in the Wehrmacht, based in Fascist-controlled northern Italy in 1943. When a local fascist is found dead, Bora finds himself at the centre of a murder inquiry. Joining forces with Sandro Guidi, a police inspector already investigating a serial killing, Bora has also to battle his disillusionment with the Nazi cause. Although a good enough read, I found it hard to engage with the characters - a disappointment as the reviews for Lumen, its predecessor, had promised great things' - Daily Mail
'Only on the very last pages of "Liar Moon " does the reader learn what is meant by its title. It is 1943 and Wehrmacht Major Martin Bora explains to his sidekick Sandro Guidi in typically patrician terms, "Luna mendax…means that the moon draws a 'C' in the sky but lies about it. According to folklore, when you see the moon for a 'C' in the night sky, you'd think she's a crescent, waxing moon. But it isn't. It's actually a waning moon. "
The moon motif recurs throughout the pair's investigations of a the murder of a crippled millionaire, Vittorio Lisi, dead in his wheelchair outside his country villa at the novel's inception. The portrait of an unpleasant philanderer with Fascist leanings at the turning point of Italy's allegiance in the Second World War is largely related by servants and mistresses. His wife, Clara, in whom Guidi takes an unprofessional interest, appears as both a froth of pink tulle and fluffy flirtations and an expert in manipulating the personal with the political.
Martin Bora is also more than merely the German officer responsible for preventing Italian partisans from successfully fighting their way up the spine of the country to reclaim the North from the Axis. Lorries of Jews destined for extermination camps have a way of breaking down and losing their occupants. Arrested partisans may make similar escapes, or-after torture-be afforded a mercy killing. Bora, a Schubert-loving aristocrat, bears the extreme injuries of recent action with exemplary stoicism, while Guidi is guided by his heart (and his Mama) as least as much as his head. The novel's guiding light, however, remains the moon, which has become something of an obsession with (female) author Ben Pastor, whose first Martin Bora mystery was called "Lumen ".
It is almost impossible not to read Ben pastor and be reminded of Donna Leon, whose Guido Brunetti crime series has attracted a massive readership in every language but Italian. Both Leon (who is North American but has lived and lectured in Venice for the past 30 years and sets her novels around there) and Pastor (who is Italian but has lived and lectured for 30 years in the US and sets her novels around the northern town of Verona) write in English.
Leon refuses to allow Guido Brunetti to be translated into his native language; it remains to be seen whether either Martin Bora or Sandro Guidi will be translated into theirs. While a German readership might be content to encounter a subversive hero in Bora, Italians may be less happy to confront such an amiable Fascist in Guidi.' - The Tablet
'It is September 1943 during the Second World War and Italy is a divided country.
The North is still held by the Fascists whilst Sicily and the South have been liberated by the allies who are slowly gaining ground in the rest of Italy.
Against this backdrop of war Wehrmacht Major and aristocrat Martin Bora is diverted from his military duties to conduct an investigation into the murder of a prominent Fascist close to Verona. Reluctantly Bora agrees to take on the case which has the potential to embarrass the pro-Nazi regime. Bora joins forces with police inspector Sandro Guidi who is also on the trail of an elusive serial killer. Badly injured during an attack by local partisans Bora carries out his duties with a flinty resolve whilst also suffering severe physical pain.
However, whilst Bora appears to be the epitome of a committed German soldier his actions are being closely scrutinised by the SS. His opposition to their policies in Russia have alerted their suspicions to his real feelings about the Nazi party. When Bora is charged with overseeing the transportation of a group of Jews to the concentration camps they mysteriously escape during the journey. The SS are aware that this not the first time Bora has appeared to allow this to happen.
The clash between Bora's duties and his conscience creates an interesting and unusual character study as he balances undeniable commitment and courage as a soldier with his own personal code of ethics. Liar Moon is an intelligent, thoughtful and imaginative tale that balances intimate characterisation with the wider backdrop of conflict and political intrigue. The second in the Martin Bora series it shares with its predecessor Lumen a bleak poetic vision combined with the unusual and thought provoking device of having a German Wehrmacht Major as its central protagonist and detective. Atmospheric, ambitious and cleverly plotted Liar Moon is an original and memorable crime thriller.' - Crime Time
‘Set in the divided Italy of 1943, a Wehrmacht Major, Martin Bora, investigates a the murder of a Fascist bigwig with local policeman Sandro Guidi. Their relationship reflects the ambivalence of Italy's place in the war. Although real friendship is impossible between the two men, shared, although not expressed, feelings create a bond against the relentless remnants of the Fascist regime. The descriptions of the weather, which features so large as to be a character in itself, create a disturbing, harsh landscape. A reflection on broken dreams and the struggle for individuality within a relentless machine—once read, not easily forgotten.' - The Lady
'Wehrmacht Major Martin von Bora survived the cruel Russian front as a hero though to the SS he is an enemy for his inquiry in Poland five years ago (see Lumen). In September 1943, the Baron is assigned to Verona in German occupied northern Italy; where ironically a grenade launcher destroys one of his hands and left a leg filled with shrapnel. Though his doctor prescribes rest, Martin refuses.
His superior Colonel Habermehl sends Muti Battalion Centurion Gaetano de Rosa to direct Martin to investigate the death of a powerful Fascist, wheelchair bound Camerrata Vittorio Lisi in a car accident that is clearly a murder. Martin asks Police Inspector Sandro Guidi to help him. In turn, Guidi asks the German officer to assist his investigation into a serial killer who leaves a shoe behind. Bora, who misses his wife, knows the SS is watching him hoping to eliminate him at a time when the Holocaust trucks through Verona and partisans with help from the allies to the south will do anything to liberate the occupied north.
The two historical mysteries are cleverly designed to bring to life an occupied divided Italy in the Fall of 1943. Both cases are entertaining due to the lead sleuths working sort of together but not quite trusting one another as their agendas appear different. Bora is a hero who conceals his activities to prevent atrocities. Guidi has problems understanding the seemingly cold aloof German. Readers will relish Ben Pastor's strong WWII mysteries with its superb historical background.' - Mystery Gazette
'Liar Moon by Ben Pastor is the second book in a series of World War Two-era thrillers featuring Major Martin Bora. This book takes place in fascist Italy, and Martin Bora is a Major in the Wehrmacht.
Let me repeat that. Bora is a German army officer during World War Two-you know, Nazis, the bad guys, the ultimate villains, the ones who audiences are never allowed to feel any sympathy for, the ones Indiana Jones can kill by the boatload without blinking an eye.
Some readers might think that Pastor is either insane, crazy, or both to write a book with a Nazi protagonist. However, she pulls it off by being true to her main character, and not stooping to easy moralizing or overstating the obvious.
Bora is opposed to Nazi policies and in the first book of the series he plays a key role in saving hundreds of lives. He's viewed suspiciously by his superiors, which explains why he's been exiled to the Italian countryside and can be pressured into investigating the death of a prominent Italian fascist. Bora knows he's skating on thin ice, and he and his wife could be hustled off to a camp if he's not careful.
At the end of Lumen, the first book in the series, Bora is nearly killed in a grenade attack. As a result, he's lost one hand, has shrapnel embedded deep in his knee, and is in constant pain. He can't move, he can't breathe, without pain shooting through his body:
His headache was turning into a nauseous need to vomit. All morning his left arm had ached, and from the maimed wrist agonizing stabs travelled to his shoulder and up the nape of his neck. Just above his riding boot, the mortified flesh of his knee throbbed like a second, painful heart. Bora steadied himself enough to put a cigarette in his mouth, but did not light it.
This pain reflects the inner turmoil Bora feels about what his country is doing. And, just as Bora can't admit the physical pain he's in, he also can't admit how sick he is about the Nazis.
The most remarkable aspect of Pastor's book is that she hardly spends any time explicitly denouncing Nazi atrocities. This isn't just an oversight; in fact, the subtlety with which she handles Nazi genocide is perhaps the book's strongest point. The epigram, "To those who were in the trucks bound for the concentration camps, " immediately sets the tone for Pastor's handling of Nazi war crimes. Her characters, Nazi or non-Nazi, aren't forced to lecture the reader about how bad the Nazis were-they don't need to do that, we already know they're the bad guys.
Bora is a German and he's a soldier, so he follows his orders as closely as his conscience allows. It wouldn't be realistic to his quiet, suspicious nature if he were denouncing his own country left and right.
Ever since Spain, Bora had taken inordinate care in the practice of storing anxiety deeply within, as safely as an army trunk was organized, with the heaviest objects at the bottom, tucked away in the corners.
This can feel frustrating. When Bora's told he needs to help guide trucks full of Jews heading to a concentration camp through the Italian countryside, the readers wants Bora to spit in his superior's face. We want him to grab his revolver and limp towards Berlin with a knife in his mouth and go all Inglorious Basterds on the Reichstag. But he can't do that.
So the reader has to grit his or her teeth and wait things out with Bora.
Pastor shows such restraint that the reader is unsure if the acts of sabotage that befall the Nazi machinery in Bora's region are due to Bora's interference or not. And when Bora mysteriously arrests a Catholic priest the reader's faith in the Major is stretched even thinner.
Yet Pastor pushes this line, while staying true to her characters. Bora is too reserved, too bound by duty and stoic to launch into tirades against the Nazis. Towards the middle of the novel, Guidi accuses Bora of playing a role in atrocities, and Bora nearly loses his top, but he keeps his lips buttoned.
Of course, the reader wants Bora to confess to Guidi about all the good he's doing, about how Bora is fighting from the inside-but he doesn't say anything. He can't say anything, and Pastor's book is stronger for his silence.
In Bora and his reluctant partner, Sandro Guidi, Pastor has created characters that are sympathetic and also frustratingly, achingly human.' - Criminal Element
'Martin Bora, a Wehrmacht Major, and Sandro Guidi, a local police inspector, make an original duo in this dark story set near Verona in German-occupied northern Italy during late 1943. Ben Pastor, an Italian who was a professor for many years in the United States, uses to good effect a background of Fascist collaborators and Communist partisans for her second crime novel featuring Bora as her detective.
The point about the cultivated, aristocratic Bora is that he is an intellectual, haunted by his own demons. "I am a soldier ", he says, "and don't dabble in politics. " He frets about his childless wife at home and thinks there is a distinction between killing the enemy and murdering Jewish children, as he has witnessed in Russia. Bora is scathing about Italians who "confuse firmness with cruelty ", and bears with absurd stoicism the pain from his recent war wounds, including the loss of his left hand in a skirmish with partisans. Bora and Guidi are brought together to investigate the murder of Lisi, a rich Fascist supporter. The soft-hearted bachelor Guidi cannot understand either Bora's attitudes or his courage. He follows his senses, especially where Clara, Lisi's attractive young wife is concerned.
Pastor handles her themes with considerable skill. Personal and public quarrels are played out with the Americans at Salerno and confused civilians fleeing to their shelters during air raids. Rich men seduce young girls; women die of botched abortions-and who is to know whether a witness slips and falls beneath a tram or is pushed? Especially nasty is the top Italian Fascist, juggling money, power and mistresses. When he gives Bora "a hateful look ", Pastor's use of the word "hateful " seems just right. She makes her reader understand Bora, the obedient but troubled German officer, and the differing attitude of Italians towards their German allies. In addition, she gives a memorable comic portrait of Guidi's doting mother. Banished to the kitchen while her son talks with the Major, she shells peas "with the offended dignity of the excluded. "
- TLS Times Literary Supplement
'Ben Pastor, who is an Italian woman writing in English about a German World War II officer called upon to investigate crimes as well as to conduct his part in the war. Much of the conversation in this second "Martin Bora" novel is between the now-Major Bora and an Italian policeman, Guidi, pulled together to investigate the murder of a local plutocrat in Verona in late 1943. Bora seems at times like the German officer played by Erich von Stroheim in Jean Renoir's wonderful Grand Illusion: as the film progresses, von Stroheim has lost more and more body parts, until he's practically a cyborg. Bora has, just before the novel begins, been the victim of a partisan bomb and has lost a hand and almost lost a leg.
The quality of the dialogue in the book forces us to see Bora as a person, rather than a Nazi stereotype, in spite of his stiff German attitude and the willingness with which he seems to support atrocities perpetrated by his army. As the novel progresses we learn a bit more about his role in the atrocities that may (as the series progresses) change how we see Bora (there was little hint of any mitigation in the first Bora novel, Lumen. Bora is somehow both unlikable and sympathetic, and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a character through what is characterized as an ongoing series. Liar Moon, considered on its own, is a very interesting and unconventional portrait of a complex era of italian history (now that Bora has been sent to northern Italy after the Polish setting of Lumen), and the conclusion, reached after much digression in action and conversation, includes an interesting double-reverse and depends on the correct interpretation of the book's title, whose basis in folklore is finally explained. - International Noir Fiction
'One of crime fiction's more unusual protagonists is Baron Martin Bora, a German Army Major during World War II. In a previous [debut] novel, "Lumen," Bora served in Spain, Poland and at Stalingrad, where he gained some distinction for solving a murder. This novel takes place in 1943 just as the Italian government switched sides, but the Nazi troops still controlled the north.
As the novel opens, Bora is in a hospital after his troops were attacked by partisans; he loses his left hand and shrapnel is embedded in his leg, leaving him in pain for the rest of the book. Parenthetically, this reader wondered how he was not sent home after being so badly injured. In any event, when he returns to his duties, his superior foists on him an investigation into the murder of a fascist leader. His inquiries take place in conjunction with those of a local inspector, who in turn is seeking a serial killer.
While the description of the investigation and activities against the partisans are skillfully drawn, more important is the author's portrayal of the individual characters, especially Bora, who apparently scrupulously undermines efforts to transport Jews to concentration camps. To say the least, the characters are quite original, Bora a droll creation, highly intelligent.' - MBR Bookwatch
'The second in Pastor's series starring Nazi major Martin von Bora, whom the Wehrmacht assigns to investigate crimes that are potentially embarrassing to the cause, finds Bora assigned to Verona, where a highly placed Italian fascist has been murdered. Bora is in constant pain from a grenade attack that has left an arm and a knee shattered, and Pastor's vivid descriptions of the Major's efforts to keep himself together with dignity help make this Nazi functionary sympathetic. That and Bora's constant guilt at sending truckloads of prisoners to their deaths in Russia. Part of the challenge of this book comes from wondering whether Pastor has gone too far, or not far enough, in making her Nazi protagonist a likable series lead. The German officer is paired with an Italian police inspector who both admires and is appalled by Bora's stoicism. The tone of the book has a flu-like grimness, appropriate the 1943 setting. Pastor is excellent at providing details (silk stockings, movie magazines, cigarettes) that light up the setting.' - Booklist
'Set in German-occupied Italy in the fall of 1943, Pastor's second novel featuring Wehrmacht Maj. Martin Bora (after 2011's Lumen) finds Bora assigned by German headquarters in Verona to assist Italian Centurion Gaetano De Rosa in investigating the murder of a Fascist party notable, Vittorio Lisi. The death has been spun as resulting from natural causes in keeping with the facade that no one commits murder or suicide in Mussolini's Italy. In fact, the wheelchair-bound Lisi was struck by a car, and since his wife Clara's vehicle has a dent in its front fender, she's an obvious suspect. Lisi's dying message-scrawling the letter C in the gravel-also points to his widow, but Bora must consider others with motive for the killing, including political adversaries. Pastor succeeds at painting a memorable picture of Fascist Italy through the lens of ordinary police procedure carried out under extraordinary circumstances.'
- Publishers Weekly
'Ben Pastor, who is an Italian woman writing in English about a German World War II officer called upon to investigate crimes as well as to conduct his part in the war. Much of the conversation in this second "Martin Bora" novel is between the now-Major Bora and an Italian policeman, Guidi, pulled together to investigate the murder of a local plutocrat in Verona in late 1943. Bora seems at times like the German officer played by Erich von Stroheim in Jean Renoir's wonderful Grand Illusion: as the film progresses, von Stroheim has lost more and more body parts, until he's practically a cyborg. Bora has, just before the novel begins, been the victim of a partisan bomb and has lost a hand and almost lost a leg.
The quality of the dialogue in the book forces us to see Bora as a person, rather than a Nazi stereotype, in spite of his stiff German attitude and the willingness with which he seems to support atrocities perpetrated by his army. As the novel progresses we learn a bit more about his role in the atrocities that may (as the series progresses) change how we see Bora (there was little hint of any mitigation in the first Bora novel, Lumen. Bora is somehow both unlikable and sympathetic, and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a character through what is characterized as an ongoing series. Liar Moon, considered on its own, is a very interesting and unconventional portrait of a complex era of italian history (now that Bora has been sent to northern Italy after the Polish setting of Lumen), and the conclusion, reached after much digression in action and conversation, includes an interesting double-reverse and depends on the correct interpretation of the book's title, whose basis in folklore is finally explained.

I would have said that reading three novels based on indirect conversations rather than narration and action would have been frustrating and confusing--but Pastor, Varesi, and McClure are in their very different ways very good writers, and their tales are rewarding whether considered together or separately.' - International Noir Fiction
'Liar Moon reaches the UK more than ten years after its original publication. Italy in 1943 presents an unusual historical-political background. The Allies have invaded the South, Mussolini has been deposed, but in the North the Nazis are still in control. A prominent fascist in Verona is murdered. Stanioned there, reluctantly, is major martin Bora-a german aristocrat with a conscience. Hes' obliged to investigate, together with the local plice inspector, Sandro Guidi, who is also seeking a serial killer.
The relationship between the two men, as their inquiries develop, is at the crux of this impressive and intelligent novel.'
- The Times
'Near Verona, northern Italy, autumn 1943: Captain Martin Bora is a German military policeman, known to have conducted previous murder investigations. He is asked to look into the death of one Vittorio Lisi, a prominent local fascist who was run over in his wheelchair on his own estate by a car. The number one suspect is his widow Claretta.
Liar Moon is the second book in this series, following on from Lumen which was set in Poland in 1939, but it is not essential to have read the first. There are references to his time in Poland and even to the case there, but there are no spoilers. Curiously, there are also references to his time in Spain and Russia, and I wondered if the author plans to set future Bora books there, probably going back in time a little.
Bitter Lemon Press specialises in publishing translated crime fiction from around Europe and beyond. However, Ben Pastor is an Italian woman who lived for over 30 years in the US and her novels are originally written in English. I enjoy crime fiction from other countries but I did like the fact that I could read about a different setting without having to wonder whether the translation fully reflected the original.
In Liar Moon, as in the predecessor, Pastor moves into telling her story without a lot of explanation of the historical background, which is quite complicated, and I felt a need to research online to properly understand the story and the setting (as I did with Lumen) - in 1943 a new Italian government deposed Mussolini and switched sides to join with the Allies instead of fighting with Germany. The Germans had responded by invading and taking control of northern Italy, and were keen to keep the trust of their Fascist supporters there, despite significant differences of policy and emphasis over issues such as the treatment of Jewish people in Italy.
The characters in this book are more interesting than the plot, especially Martin Bora himself. Pastor has created a hero who is a representative of an evil regime, yet he is in his way a human being, who has principles but must compromise them in his day to day work. This time Pastor has created a second central detective character, Sandro Guidi, and much of the story is told from his point of view, including his perceptions of Bora, a man he finds difficult to work out. In the context of the politics at this time in Italy's history, it is to be an uneasy working relationship.
Most of the story is taken up with a police procedural investigation, in which Bora and Guidi travel round interviewing a series of witnesses, although matters are complicated by the atmosphere of understandable suspicion in which they must work, as everyone's political loyalty is under scrutiny.
This is an intriguing, thought provoking mystery, with a little more effort needed to understand the setting and follow the story than in some crime fiction. I look forward to seeing where Bora ends up next.' - Book bag
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