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3.9 out of 5 stars14
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 13 April 2014
This is what genre fans would call - rightly - a history-mystery. The biggest mystery, however, is why it has taken ten years for this splendid thriller to be published in the UK and with a change of title from the original "Kaputt Mundi" which is a fabulous pun given the novel's setting: Rome in 1944 in the months leading up to the city's liberation from the Germans and their remaining Fascist allies. It is the third in Pastor's excellent series featuring the wounded, aristocratic German army officer Martin von Bora as a reluctant detective investigating three suspicious deaths in a time and place where death is common place. Having a "good German" hero during the Second World War brings immediate comparison with Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series and although different in style and pace, the Bora books certainly hold their own. Pastor's writing, emotions and attention to period detail, however, stand comparison with the European spy stories of Alan Furst, which is a pretty exclusive club to be a member of. As with Furst, there are passages, often doom-filled poignant scenes, which stay long in the mind after finishing the book. In A Dark Song of Blood, there is a section where Bora meets his estranged wife and the result is absolutely heart-breaking, and also a supremely tense race-against-time to rescue his Italian policeman side-kick from a mass execution (a true incident) by the SS in retaliation for partisan attacks. Ben (Verbena) Pastor, an Italian, is pitch-perfect when it comes not only to her historical settings, but also to the psychology and frailties of a large cast of predominantly male characters (soldiers, political satraps and Vatican cardinals), though her female characters are equally well-defined and memorably tinged with sadness.
There is a fourth Bora novel (The Tin Sky) currently only available in Italian. Will somebody please make sure I don't have to wait for ten years for that one!
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This is the third novel featuring Martin Bora, following “Lumen” and “Liar Moon.” This book sees Bora in Rome and takes place from January to May, 1944. It is coming to the end of the Nazi occupation and, like “Liar Moon,” the novel features Inspector Sandro Guidi as an uncomfortable partner of Bora in an investigation. For those forced to work with the Germans will soon possibly be viewed as collaborators and there is an uneasy feeling in a city where the Allies are approaching and the Germans may be forced to pull out at any moment.

Guidi has been told to investigate the death of Magda Reiner, a secretary at the German Embassy, who fell to her death from her apartment. The main suspect is a man called Merlo; one of the highest ranking Party official in Rome. However, Guido’s superior officer seems unwilling to contemplate any other outcome and it leaves Guido wondering why he has been framed for the crime. Reunited with Bora, the two investigate while the war escalates and you cannot escape the irony of one murder being given such importance when the city is torn by reprisals, the resistance, curfews, oppression and hunger.

Those who have followed this evocative and intelligent series will already be aware of Bora’s difficult relationship with his wife, Benedikta. She figures again in this novel, visiting him in Rome, while Guidi becomes intrigued by Francesca Lippi – a young woman who shares the boarding house where he is staying. This book sees us explore more of Bora’s repressed personal life. Now damaged by war physically, as well as mentally, he finds his life as a German officer and his personal feelings begin to clash more and more. This novel will take us from the politics of the Vatican to torture and mass executions. It is no exaggeration to say that, at the end of this novel, you will feel emotionally wrung. However, if you are coming to this series for the first time, please try to read them in order – they are really best read in sequence . This is a rewarding, and different, crime series, which is both enjoyable and yet, at times, difficult to read. Still, I do hope that Martin Bora will figure in future books, as it is rare to find such a fascinating, if flawed, central character.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 January 2015
A Dark Song of Blood is the third book in the Martin Bora series translated into English. As with the earlier books, the strength of the story is the character of Bora and the moral ambiguities of the tale. Bora has aristocratic roots, is a committed military man who has served in Spain, Poland, Russia and Italy, and is strong willed, intelligent, principled and brave. Although he knows he serves a corrupt regime he has a strong sense of duty and loyalty, but he’s no apologist for the German army. He also abhors the Gestapo and SS and their work and methods, and hates the treatment of the Jews and will actively intervene on their behalf. At the same time, he’s quite happy to see partisans executed, but not the ratio of reprisals. The story unfolds over the first six months of 1944 and mostly focuses on Bora’s interactions with the local police, the Gestapo and SS, and the Church, with the murder investigation forming one thread amongst a number, being very slowly edged forward and at times almost disappearing entirely. At one level, this is fine, as there is plenty happening, but another it left the plot a little rudderless at times. And whilst Pastor keeps a number of possible suspects in the frame, I found the denouement a little unsatisfying. Overall, an interesting story centred on a fascinating character.
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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2016
I love the peculiar uniqueness of Ben Pastor’s novels. I suppose their unusual sense of otherness is what irritates some readers, the fact that they cannot easily be categorized. This one should be read, not so much as a crime investigation – although it is that too – but as an exploration of the reactions and behaviours of an army and its soldiers on the brink of defeat in an occupied city. That city is Rome, the army is the German army and the soldier primarily is Major Martin Bora, conscience-struck, but dutiful and true to his calling as a soldier.

This is the best of the three Martin Bora novels I have read, a weaving web of complex movements and relationships. Bora is maimed, abandoned by his wife, fighting (he knows it) for the wrong side, trying to steer a course of conscience throughout, unwilling to compromise his Christian faith and principles. For all his acerbic priggishness Bora does what is right, even though it costs him a lot, both in his personal relationships and in attracting the notice of very dangerous people.

The novel is a sustained narrative of impending collapse, punctuated with scenes of sudden, unexpected and shocking horror: Bora caught in a field hospital during an allied bombing raid, holding the hand of an injured prisoner of war; the scene in the hotel bedroom when his wife Benedikta tells him the truth about why they have no children; Bora’s increasingly frustrating attempt to save his colleague, the Italian detective Guidi, from an SS death squad; the scene outside the church of St John Lateran when Bora takes action against a local who is informing the SS about Roman Jews; the shock when the identity of the informer is revealed.

This is a hugely satisfying book on many levels. For me the standout aspect is the tense relationship between Bora and Guidi, men who at another time might have been the closest of friends, but in their own times can at best maintain a strained and difficult professional alliance.
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on 11 June 2014
The third book in the author’s excellent series featuring Major Martin Bora, an aristocratic officer in the German Army, takes place in German-occupied Rome from January 8 to June 4, 1944, the date of the withdrawal of German forces from the city. Bora is tasked with investigating three high-profile murders together with Roman police Inspector Sandro Guidi who had also worked with Bora in the prior novel, Liar Moon. Bora becomes caught up in the power struggle between the German Army, the SS and the Gestapo while Guidi has to content with competing factions within the Roman police as well as the Partisans and resistance. The Vatican also exerts its own power and influence over events. The author masterfully describes the complexity of life in occupied Rome as well as the personal and opposing tensions experienced by Bora and Guidi as they struggle to solve the crimes. This is mystery fiction, a war story and a historical novel tightly woven together by a superb storyteller.
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on 6 January 2016
The previous Bora novel (Liar Moon) had unfortunately left me a little disappointed - a sort of reversal from the more subtle 'Lumen'.

This is Pastor really engaging with the rather fascinating character of Martin von Bora - a professional Wehrmacht soldier battling to satisfy both professional duty and personal conscience.

Without giving spoilers, Occupied Rome is alive with murder and mystery, classicism and the rude interjection of modern fascism, all against the backdrop of the approaching allied forces used as an effective plot device, pressure rising in tandem with the plot and Bora's need to act

There are heartbreaking moments and there are uplifting moments, all gathered around the ugly and beautiful moments that are peppered throughout life

A classic - read without haste, take time to savour and watch the soldier come closer to his destiny.
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on 15 May 2014
This is the 3rd book of the series but the first one I had read - ( I have since brought the first 2 books).

The " hero" of the story Martin Bora is a slightly disillusioned German officer but deeply loyal to his country and to the discipline of the army. A believable character who, almost against your better judgement, you come to respect and care for. The historical backdrop is very believable and the story weaves around real events and concerns.

An enjoyable story well told.
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on 9 April 2015
What an odd novel. The prose is dreadful, so much so that initially I believed it must have been written in Italian and translated, but not so. Possibly one of the most pointless and pretentious novels I have read and I cannot understand why it was given a good review in a National newspaper. I didn't give up reading it in the belief that it must get better, it did not!
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on 3 August 2014
It is misrepresentative

This book is written for an American and Italian market certainly not British and probably not German. The main character, Major Martin von Bora of the German Weirmacht, is a complex person who has his interests and intellect in many areas. The murder plots are solved but not resolved. There is far too much time spent on analysing Major Bora’s emotional and psychological issues. The character description does not ring true; he is an aristocrat, a Prussian and obviously Saxon. No Saxon spent so much time travelling through so many of their own emotions and analysing themselves. His parentage is half English (mother) but his wide spreading emotions are certainly not Saxon, he reacts like an Italian or maybe an American. Saxons are more capable of switching off and not being involved with issues and personalities; empathy and chewing over emotional issues is not really part of their make up. There is a degree of coolness and disassociation from emotional issues and people on many occasions I felt too that the character was speaking like John Wayne: is this for an American audience? Yes, I would say so. No Prussian educated in the 1920’s and 30’s would have such a vocabulary.
The book is based around the invasion of Italy by the ‘Americans’, that is the 5th Army, and the people refer in the book to ‘the Americans are coming’ and ‘when the Americans arrive’ etc. This is quite annoying and in fact incorrect. The 5th Army was huge. There are only two or three remarks about the British made, one is when they take an airport then lose it, and the other is about two British fighters strafing a road. Inflammatory in my ears as my mother’s brother was at Anzio fighting with all the Allies. In the 5th Army in Italy the USA had 109,642 killed, the British 47,452 and the French 27,671 from Sept 43 to May 45. These figures refer to Italy only and there is no mention to the huge amount of Commonwealth troops and indeed Brazilians also in Italy. I think this is more than the ‘Americans are coming’, this is pure propaganda. I did not like this book; it did not ring true either by character nor facts. Let me remind the author that in WW2 : British killed: 700,000 military and 60,000 civilians. USA military killed 416,000, civilians some hundreds. I could make some remarks about the ‘Professor of History’ writing under a pen name. I will spare myself the emotions.
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on 13 January 2016
Strange having a German as the hero.
Martin Bora must come back again
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