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  • Reviews for Tin Sky by Ben Pastor
  • Ben Pastor |  Tin Sky
Reviews for Tin Sky by Ben Pastor
STARRED REVIEW PW .Set in the spring of 1943, Pastor's excellent fourth mystery featuring Maj. Martin Bora (after 2014's Dark Song of Blood) takes the German army counterintelligence officer to Ukraine. In Krasny Yar, a place shunned by the locals, someone has been savagely killing peasants for no apparent reason. Bora has little time to investigate before a higher-profile case claims his attention. Gen. Ghenrikh “Khan” Tibyetsky, a tank corps commander with access to the highest level of Soviet military planning, has offered to defect to the Germans. Khan's information could be crucial to the battle looming in the Kursk salient. Bora handles Khan's surrender, but the Gestapo later takes control of the prisoner. When Khan dies in Gestapo custody, an apparent poisoning victim, no one besides Bora, a decent man, seems interested in solving the crime, which may be linked to the murders at Krasny Yar. Pastor effectively melds a well-constructed whodunit with a grim portrayal of the Eastern front.' - Publishers Weekly

'Tin Sky is the third novel in the Martin Bora Series written by Ben Pastor. Martin Bora is a Wehrmacht officer. In Tin Sky, which takes place in 1943, Bora is sent to Ukraine. While there, he witnesses a Soviet officer defecting to the German side. While in Nazi custody, he dies under suspicious circumstances, and it is up to Martin Bora to figure out what happened.

I was surprised by how accurate the events were described in Tin Sky. It is almost like I have been there. Ben Pastor is a masterful story teller who skillfully weaves suspense, intrigue, mystery, and interpersonal relationships to craft such a powerful story. Despite being loyal to Hitler, Bora is a principled man who is a devout Catholic as well as a family man. In the book, he always questions what is right and what is wrong which often gets him in trouble with his superiors.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very interesting to see the perspective of the other side and what they dealt with during the war. I didn’t read the first two books, and I was worried that I missed out on some key parts. However, even it being the third book of the Martin Bora series, it can be read independently, as the settings describe different events in different war theaters.' --San Diego Book Review

‘It is May 1943 and having survived the horrors of Stalingrad, Major Martin von Bora is stationed in Merefa, a suburb of Kharkhov in German-occupied Ukraine where he is attempting to raise a cavalry regiment to harass the advancing Russians. In the nearby woods of Krasny Yar, bodies are being unearthed from previous massacres. Are they German, Ukrainian or ‘missing' Jews? The local villagers and their priest are convinced something unholy has happened there and that the place is cursed but for Martin von Bora: there was no more a devil in the woods than there was real hope of winning this war, even though as a Catholic and a German officer Bora believed both in the devil and in the final victory. Before he can seriously investigate what actually went on in Krasny Yar, Bora has to devote himself to Intelligence matters, interrogating one captured Russian general and taking charge of a second, who has spectacularly defected to the Germans in a new model Soviet tank. The captured general dies suddenly of a suspected heart attack and the defecting general – a tactical genius nicknamed ‘Khan' – is abducted from Bora's care by the SS and Gestapo and in short order he is reported poisoned and dead, his body missing. It would be tempting to say that Martin Bora's life was about to become complicated, but then it already was. Bora is an aristocrat with a privileged upbringing, a soldier of the old school and a Catholic devoted to a beautiful wife he is drifting apart from, though he may not yet fully recognise this. In a world where the inmates really have taken over the asylum – and laid it waste – Bora is a noble, yet vulnerable warrior beset on all sides by ignoble enemies, many of them wearing the same uniform. As one embittered and jealous army doctor rants at him: “You are used to people doting on you, I can tell. Your looks; your smile. It annoys me that you count on it”. How Bora survives the pressures of fighting a war his conscience objects to in support of a regime which destroys and denigrates everything he was brought up to believe in, is at the heart of this superb series which (when they are all finally published in the UK) will chart Bora's career from the Spanish Civil War through the invasion of Poland, the Russian campaign and then to Italy as the war grinds to its inevitable end. Ben (Verbena) Pastor has created a character that it is possible to cheer for (as when, in Tin Sky, he instinctively helps Russian women escape an SS round-up), weep for and fear for, as this is a man too often too brave for his own good. The background historical detail of army life, organization and infighting, is incredibly impressive and superbly woven into the story, but Pastor's novels are far more than military memoires. As well as being superb, pacey thrillers they are novels of heart and soul, with a hero who refuses to believe life is cheap despite the awful evidence all around him.' - Shots Magazine

‘Best crime novel of the month. Terror and suspicion on the Eastern Front. We hail a bold series set in the Second World War in our crime roundup: ‘A GERMAN officer serving in occupied Ukraine during the Second World War might not sound like a sympathetic character, but Ben Pastor's novels featuring a Wehrmacht major are turning into one of the most appealing series in modern crime fiction, combining intriguing plots and characters who defy easy interpretation. In the fourth novel, Tin Sky, Martin Bora has recently escaped the horrors of Stalingrad and is serving as a counterintelligence officer in northeast Ukraine. Local people are sullen and uncooperative, and they're terrified of going into a nearby forest where mutilated corpses keep turning up. Although irritated by the superstitions attached to the area, Bora begins a desultory investigation. Then a Russian general defects, driving across the German lines in a T-34, the Soviets' most advanced tank. He hopes to save his neck by passing on high-level intelligence, but he and another captured general are found dead in their cells. Bora is infuriated by the murders, but also troubled by questions of whether individual deaths matter in the midst of such carnage. This fine novel is packed with tense moments and moral ambiguity.' - Sunday Times

‘Handsome, aristocratic German army major Martin Bora is in Ukraine. He has survived the unparalleled savagery of the siege of Stalingrad. He's assembling a new mounted cavalry regiment and awaiting the ferocious Russian offensive that will surely come. He's also receiving plaudits from superiors for his “lucidity,” a veiled reference to the vast numbers of German officers broken physically and mentally by Stalingrad. But he's also still an Abwehr (intelligence) officer charged with interrogating two Russian generals who became heroes at Stalingrad. One has been captured, the other has defected to the German side in the new T-34 tank. In short order, the captured general dies of a heart attack and the defector is snatched from the Abwehr by the SS. Bora fears he's losing his beautiful, strong-willed wife, and he's become obsessed by the murders of peasants in nearby Krasny Yar. Could it be Stalingrad has also broken the major? Bora is a brilliantly developed character (Liar Moon, 2012), and Pastor's devastated Ukraine is richly atmospheric. Tin Sky's only weakness is that Pastor's passion for granular detail nearly overwhelms the complex plot.' - Booklist

A Warrior on the Eastern Front.

‘A favorite recent read features an unlikely main character and an unlikely author, appropriately for an absorbing mystery. First, the author: one would expect Ben Pastor, not a pen name, to be a man, perhaps a pious fellow. But Ben is short for Verbena, an Italian woman born Maria Verbena Volpi who many years ago married an American officer and moved to the U.S. A professor of the classics, she now lives in Italy and has a fascination for "the warrior's life, past and present," as she puts it.

Writing in English, Pastor has published historical novels set in Roman times as well as the Martin Bora series, which, in another unlikely twist, features a Wehrmacht major working for the Abwehr, German counterintelligence, during World War II. Bora is from an aristocratic, conservative family that prizes military service.

The most recent book in the series published here is Tin Sky, from Bitter Lemon Press. Set in spring 1943 in Ukraine, a few months after the Battle of Stalingrad, Tin Sky is a fascinating, gritty tale, focused on the seemingly coincidental deaths in German jails of two Red Army generals--one a defector, the other a captive--as well as a forest near Kharkov that locals claim has been haunted for the past 20 years, and the challenge for Bora of living true to his moral values in the midst of Nazi evil. Bora is reminiscent of Count Claus von Stauffenberg, who nearly killed Hitler with a bomb in 1944. But Pastor says Bora is more like Oskar Schindler, considering Bora's "daring, daily acts of disobedience to criminal orders.... Bora is not so much a man against as he is an individual whose education clashes with the prevailing views of the culture around him." He's also a fascinating character in a pivotal time--and well worth the read.’--John Mutter, editor-in-chief, -Shelf Awareness

"…it is Ben Pastor's profound look at the emotional costs of war that makes her novel one of the best historicals of the year."

"…captivating fourth Martin Bora WWII drama…"

In 1943 German Major Martin von Bora knows he is fortunate to be alive and also have his mental faculties after the horrors he witnessed at war. Having been transferred from Italy, currently the Wehrmacht Officer Bora serves in Krasny Yar, Northeastern Ukraine.

Using his counter-intelligence position as a cover, Bora investigates what appears to be a series of brutal murders by a deranged most likely villager. However, his superior changes his mission to handle the defection of key Russian Tank Commander General Ghenrikh Tibyetsky just prior to the start of the battle in Kursk. After Bora diligently worked the surrender, the Gestapo swoops in and takes the General with them. Not long after the Gestapo starts their interrogation of the defector, someone murders Tibyetsky and another critical POW. Though the Gestapo ignores the homicides and Bora's command obediently follow their lead, the Major restarts his aborted inquiry as he feels the Tibyetsky's poisoning ties to the Krasny Yar horrific homicides.

The captivating fourth Martin Bora WWII drama (see A Dark Song Of Blood, Liar Moon and Lumen) deploys the investigation as a tool to enable the reader to understand the diverse mindsets of war-weary German and Russian soldiers on the bloody Eastern Front. Bora's efforts engage the audience, but it is Ben Pastor's profound look at the emotional costs of war that makes her novel one of the best historicals of the year. --Midwestern Book Review-MBR


‘It’s always good for the central figure in a crime novel to be that bit different. Martin Bora is an Olympic equestrian and a concert standard pianist. Oh, and he is also a Nazi, a Major in the Wehrmacht, based in the Ukraine following the disaster of Stalingrad. The mystery begins when two defectors both die in unusual circumstances, just as they are about to open up to him as the chief interrogating officer.

Researching this book provides a few more mysteries. Bitter Lemon Press say this is “the fourth in the Martin Bora series.” Ms Pastor’s own website, however, discloses it is the eleventh. Although Tin Sky is published only this year in Britain, it dates from 2012. The notes on other books describe him as a Colonel. Assuming they were written in chronological order, there must be a few more in the pipeline to look forward to. Pastor’s background is an interesting one. Italian by birth (“Ben” is short for Verbena) she has lived and worked in the US for thirty years, latterly as a Professor at the University of Vermont.

There is a huge (but not an excessive) amount of historical background in this book. I am not in a position to comment on its accuracy, but nothing jars. The characters are believable, including Bora himself. That is no mean feat given his harrowing background. While he has sensitivities, he has no issues with what he would regard as standard reprisals and other horrors of war. This is no ordinary hero and no ordinary crime novel.

Ms Pastor’s other “cycles” – her word not mine – see novels set in WW1 Prague and the Roman Empire of the 4th century AD. This is a tribute to a huge range of scholarship. Taken with her accomplished writing skills it results in an intriguing and highly readable book.’ --Journal of Law Society Scotland

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    Francois Von Hurter
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