Blog Tour/Book Review: The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor

The Horsemans Song Blog Tour Poster

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor, published by Bitter Lemon Press on 14th February 2019.    Thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publishers for my review copy.

If you’ve missed any of the previous stops on the tour, here’s an opportunity to catch up with what the other fabulous book bloggers taking part have said so far about The Horseman’s Song:

Review by Lauren at Books Beyond The Story
Review by Emma at Emmaz Book Blog
Review by Penny at What Do I Read Now?
Review by Cheryl at Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog
Guest post by Ben Pastor hosted by Jan at Beady Jan’s Books

the horseman's songAbout the Book

Spain, summer 1937. The civil war between Spanish nationalists and republicans rages. On the bloody sierras of Aragon, among Generalissimo Franco’s volunteers is Martin Bora, the twenty-something German officer and detective whose future adventures will be told in Lumen, Liar Moon, The Road to Ithaca and others in the Bora series.

Presently a lieutenant in the Spanish Foreign Legion, Bora lives the tragedy around him as an intoxicating epic, between idealism and youthful recklessness.  The first doubts, however, rise in Bora’ s mind when he happens on the body of Federico Garcia Lorca, a brilliant poet, progressive and homosexual. Who murdered him? Why? The official version does not convince Bora, who begins a perilous investigation. His inquiry paradoxically proceeds alongside that which is being carried out by an “enemy”: Philip Walton, an American member of the International Brigades.

Soon enough the German and the New Englander will join forces, and their cooperation will not only culminate in a thrilling chase after a murderer, but also in a very human, existential face-to-face between two adversaries forever changed by their crime-solving encounter…

Format: ebook, paperback (400 pp.)    Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Published: 14th February 2019     Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Purchase Links*  ǀ  ǀ (supporting UK bookshops)
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Find The Horseman’s Song on Goodreads

My Review

The Horseman’s Song is the sixth book to feature Captain Martin Bora but don’t worry if (like me) you’ve not read previous books in the series because it’s a prequel and therefore a perfect place to start.  I’ll warn you, however, that by the end you’re likely to be adding the other books in the series to your wishlist!

The author has fashioned a crime story around the real life mystery of the death during the Spanish Civil War of poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca, and the search for the location of his remains (which is still ongoing).   I have to confess that, although I was familiar with the name Lorca, I didn’t know anything about his literary output or his death.

In this respect, I’m in much the same position as Martin Bora when he discovers the body of Lorca.  Unaware of the dead man’s identity and the potential propaganda value to both sides of establishing who is responsible, initially it’s the questions raised by the circumstances of the discovery of the body that fuels his interest in investigating.  Only later, when he reads some of Lorca’s poetry, does he find a more personal connection with the dead man.  The same cannot be said for Philip Walton, in charge of the outpost of the opposing Republican forces.  Walton’s relationship with Lorca is of a much more personal nature, stretching back to a visit to America by Lorca many years before.

The clever structure of the book sees both men, separately and initially without knowing it, looking into the circumstances of Lorca’s death.  At the same time, they and their compatriots face one another across the valley taking occasional pot shots at one another, undertaking reconnaissance exercises or making surreptitious visits to the women of nearby villages.  As the narrative switches frequently between the investigation and activities of Bora and Walton, it’s as if the reader is perched on the mountain top keeping a watch on both camps.

Both Bora (German) and Walton (American) are outsiders, drawn to different sides of the Civil War for complicated reasons and carrying a fair amount of emotional baggage.  They both have things they want to forget and events in their past of which they feel ashamed.  The reader gets an insight into this intermittently through extracts from Bora’s entries in his personal diary and through access to Walton’s thoughts. What they also share is a history of strained relationships with women. As it turns out, the two men find themselves drawn to the same mysterious and enigmatic local woman who (conveniently) is free with her sexual favours with no commitment asked in return.

A prequel provides both opportunities and challenges for an author, although probably less of the latter than a sequel does.  The opportunities include the ability to delve more deeply into the past of the main character, to explain the background to decisions or actions they may take in later books, to fill in more of their back story.  In The Horseman’s Song, the reader certainly gets a very extensive insight into the character of Martin Bora. The main challenge of a prequel is that the author can’t change what is going to happen in later, already written, books.  It’s no spoiler to say that the reader knows that, however dangerous the situations in which he finds himself, Martin Bora isn’t going to die in The Horseman’s Song but, of course, he doesn’t know that.  Thanks to the skilful writing of the author, Bora’s dices with death  don’t lose any of their impact. The book also contains some wonderful lyrical writing, especially in the descriptions of the parched landscape of that part of Spain.

If, like me, you’re a fan of (the late lamented) Philip Kerr’s ‘Bernie Gunther’ series, you’ll probably love this for the historical crime element.  Because of the setting, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls also came to mind while I was reading the book. Part fascinating history lesson, part astute psychological study, part intriguing historical crime mystery, The Horseman’s Song is beautifully written and has introduced me to a historical fiction series I’m sure I’m going to love reading more of in the future.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Bitter Lemon Press, and Random Things Tours.

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In three words: Compelling, lyrical, mystery

Try something similar… Luke McCallin’s ‘Gregor Reinhardt’ series: The Man From Berlin, The Pale House and The Ashes of Berlin (read my review here)

Ben Pastor Author PictureAbout the Author

Ben Pastor is the pen-name of Maria Verbena Volpi.  She was born in Italy and worked as a university professor in Vermont. She is one of the most talented writers in the field of historical fiction. In 2008 she won the prestigious Premio Zaragoza for best historical fiction. She writes in English.

Website  | Goodreads


4 thoughts on “Blog Tour/Book Review: The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor

  1. Sounds great! I’ve been looking for fiction based around the Spanish Civil War so this really appeals, especially if it can be read separately from the rest of the series. Thanks for highlighting it! 🙂

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