(Verona, Italy, April, 1945)
Ben Pastor’s LIAR MOON is the second installment of her Martin Bora series that follows her first effort, LUMEN. In her latest book we find Wehrmacht Major Bora lying on a gurney in an emergency room in German occupied Verona, Italy in September, 1943. By this time the Italian government had switched sides and declared war on Germany. Italy was divided with the north under the control of the Fascists, and the south was being liberated by allied troops as they worked their way up the Italian boot. Bora lay in unbearable pain, having lost his left hand suffered in a grenade attack by partisan forces in which three of his men were killed. Bora had experienced a great many deaths during the war as he had spent time in Spain, Russia, and Poland witnessing the slaughter of civil war and the eastern front.
After a few months in which he recovered somewhat he was approached by a Fascist Centurion named Gaetano DeRosa to assist in the investigation of the murder of a Fascist official named Vitoria Lisa. The evidence in the case seemed to point to Visi’s ex-wife who was thirty years younger than him who had been divorced for months when he had been killed. Visi’s death was deemed important because he was a friend of Benito Mussolini.
The story has a number of important threads. First, is the death of Lisa, the local Fascist official. Second, there appears to be an escaped convict on the loose, who may be a serial killer and the case has been assigned to Police Inspector Sandro Guidi. Third, is the search for partisans who attacked Bora and his men who remain very allusive with mounting attacks against German troops. At certain points all three cases overlap and Bora and Guidi are forced to work with each other leading to a rather tenuous relationship.
Pastor’s grasp of history is admirable and she presents her story through the perspective of Bora and Guidi. Bora is the central character and he continues to be the same flawed man that appeared in LUMEN. He is deeply troubled professionally and on a personal level. He is a Wehrmacht officer who is morally against the war, but as a good soldier he carries on. He deplores the tactics employed by his government, particularly the SS who seem to be hunters who have no respect for human life. The Final Solution of the Jewish problem is ongoing and he resents being co-opted into assisting in the transportation of Jews, priests, and partisans to death camps. On a private level he worries about his marriage to his wife, Dikta, an equestrian who still does not know about the attack on her husband that left him with a prosthesis for a left hand and shrapnel in his body. Bora worries that they do not have an intellectual relationship and find that physical attraction is what keeps them together. Bora would like to have a child as he fears he will not survive the war and would like to leave some type of legacy. The problem is that his wife’s activities do not lend themselves to a successful pregnancy. Pastor introduces Sandro Guidi to work with Bora. Guidi seems to have his own issues as he still lives with his mother and suffers from an extreme lack of confidence. He is a foil for Bora, as each point out the deficiencies that each seem to suffer from. Guidi is an integral part of the plot, and tends to soften Bora’s personality.
Pastor’s approach to creating a good mystery is to begin her story with what seems to be a rather routine murder investigation and then tries to spin into a detailed plot with tentacles that reach out to numerous characters amidst the military situation in Italy in the Fall and Winter of 1943-44. Her approach was very successful in LUMEN, but it does not work as well in LIAR MOON as the story evolves almost in slow motion, and lacks the excitement of her previous effort. However, the plot results in a surprising ending and an interesting twist to Bora’s relationship with Guidi. Though the book was somewhat disappointing there is enough here to make me move on to read her next Bora installment, A DARK SONG OF BLOOD.
(Verona, Italy, April 26, 1945)