Friday, January 25, 2013

Review of Liar Moon by Ben Pastor (Bitter Lemon Press, 2012)

September 1943 and Wehrmacht Major Martin Bora wakes in an Italian hospital minus a hand, with the doctors fighting to save his leg, a victim of an attack by partisans.  The Italian government have recently switched sides, dividing the country into two, with the North still controlled by the Fascists.  As he starts to make his recovery he is asked to help the local police investigate two cases: the murder of a local Fascist hero, and an escaped mad man who has taken to killing people indiscriminately.  Reluctantly he agrees, forming an uneasy alliance with Inspector Sandro Guidi, aware that the case is politically charged and that he still has to perform his usual duties.  The murder seems a relatively open-and-shut case, the main suspect being the victim’s young widow, but neither Bora or Guidi are convinced of her guilt, though for different reasons.     

The real strength of Liar Moon is the character of Martin Bora and the moral ambiguities around his persona and actions.  He’s reserved yet direct, determined, ruthless, and principled, driven by a deep sense of conviction and his aristocratic family tradition.  He’s a soldier in an army of a corrupt and corrupting regime, trying to hold the line between murder and killing, on the one hand relentlessly hunting down partisans and on the other subverting the hunt for Jews.  And losing his hand and nearly losing his leg is not going to slow him down.  Moreover, he remains loyal and dutiful to his wife, despite their failed marriage.  My sense is that regardless of the storyline, he’d be an interesting character to spend some time with.  In Liar Moon, Pastor places him in an interesting historical terrain - Northern Italy just as Italy changes sides - and pairs him with an Italian police inspector to investigate the death of a local Fascist.  She creates a nice sense of place and history, and captures the awkward relations between Axis allies.  For the most part the plot worked well, but faltered at the resolution, which was contrived and came too much from left-field.  This was a shame as the story was coasting along very nicely up to that point.  Nevertheless, this was a thoughtful and enjoyable tale and if the other books in the Bora series are translated I’ll be reading them in due course.


Anonymous said...

Rob - Once again you've introduced me to a great historical fiction story that's worth a read. Thank you. My TBR budget doesn't tahnk you ;-), but I do.

Paul D Brazill said...

Sounds good!