Monday, March 28, 2016

Review of Tin Sky by Ben Pastor (2015, Bitter Lemon Press)

Kharkov, Ukraine, 1943. Having barely survived the horrors of Stalingrad, Major Martin Bora of German military intelligence is preparing for the coming battle with the Russians.  Bora has been trying to squeeze information from General Platonov, recently shot down, when a second general defects, crossing the Donets with the latest version of T-34, a Russian tank.  Shortly after securing the new defector he is grabbed by the SS and hours later both he and Platonov are dead.  Bora is determined to try and discover why both men died and if there was a link between them.  However, given the tensions between rival arms of the German military and difficulties of operating in an occupied area it’s far from an easy task.

Tin Sky is the fourth book in the Martin Bora series to be translated into English (#9 in Italian).  In temporal terms it’s the second, sitting between Lumen (set in Poland in 1939) and Liar Moon (set in Italy in Autumn 1943).  This outing has Bora, a German military intelligence officer, located near to Kharkov in the Ukraine in the late spring, early summer of 1943.  Having recovered from Stalingrad, Bora is back on the frontline, preparing a new regiment while investigating a local set of murders in a small wood and trying to extract information from captured Russians.  When two Russian generals die within hours of each other, Bora investigates the circumstances but soon runs into resistance with colleagues.  Bora is an interesting character, born into an aristocratic, military family, with a talent for music and horsemanship, who lacks charisma but is dogged and principled.  His principles, however, are those of German military meaning he has no problem people being burned out of their homes or executed, or partisans being mowed down, as long as it occurs within and upholds the law.  The story is full of good historical detail, but is a bit too drawn out, full of description that little moves the story on.  This isn’t aided by the tale being told using a third person narrative and through Bora’s diary entries, the latter being somewhat redundant.  Moreover, the plot is quite convoluted and it’s not really clear why Bora is not murdered himself, especially given he is clearly a target once he decides to investigate; nor is it clear why he resolves the case they way he does.  The result is a story that while interesting, meanders, lacking pace, tension and a clear arc.  Nonetheless, it is a fairly solid addition to the series.

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