Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Night of Shooting Stars by Ben Pastor, the seventh book featuring Wehrmacht Officer, Martin von Bora. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to Bitter Lemon Press for my digital review copy.
About the Book
Berlin, July 1944, a few weeks before the attempted assassination of Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators. Bora has been called back from the Italian Front to investigate the murder of a dazzling clairvoyant with Nazi connections.
Soon Bora realizes that there is much more at stake than murder in a city where everyone is talking about a conspiracy aimed at the Nazi hierarchy. Bora eventually meets with Stauffenberg. Are the plotters a group of heroes devoted to the salvation of Germany at the cost of their own lives, or a bunch of opportunists compromised from the beginning with the Nazi regime and now looking for a new virginity in the eyes of the Western Allies and Stalinist Russia?
Format : Paperback (365 pages) Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Publication date: 20th August 2020 Genre: Historical fiction, crime
Find The Night of Shooting Stars (Martin Bora #7) on Goodreads
I was first introduced to this series when I participated in the blog tour for The Horseman’s Song. Although it was the sixth book to feature Martin von Bora, it was a prequel and therefore perfect for readers like me who’d not read any of the previous books. At the time, I vowed to read the series from the beginning but here we are eighteen months on and I still haven’t!
The Horseman’s Song was set during the Spanish Civil War and a lot of water has passed under the bridge for Bora since then. Now a Lieutenant Colonel, he’s served on the Russian front and in Italy, been wounded and suffered disappointment and unexpected betrayals in his personal life. Even back in 1937 Bora was carrying a fair amount of emotional baggage: things he wanted to forget and actions of which he felt ashamed. The baggage he’s carrying is even heavier now. As he reflects at one point, “For a long time he’d felt alone with his choices.”
Angry at being recalled from serving on the frontline with his regiment, Bora is also curious as to why he’s being ordered to investigate a murder – and who’s really behind the order. During his time in the now disbanded Abwehr (the German military intelligence service) he made a fair few enemies. As he confides to his friend, Bruno, “I can’t understand why on earth the Kripo would pick an ordinary lieutenant colonel to investigate a high-profile case.” (The glossary is helpful for navigating the different military and law enforcement bodies.)
Bora’s suspicions are multiplied when he is issued with a driver, Inspector Florian Grimm, and what seems to be a predetermined list of suspects. Ostensibly there to assist him in his investigation, Bora soon finds Grimm not just an annoyingly persistent presence but more like a watcher than an aide. Nevertheless, Bora embarks on the investigation with his customary thoroughness and vigour. “He rebuilt, from what a victim left behind, the substructure of deeds, relationships and secrets that permitted understanding and the solving of the crime.” Was the victim killed for what he knew or what he foresaw?
The author skilfully evokes the atmosphere of wartime Berlin with its bombed out buildings and beleaguered citizens. I liked the little details such as the fact that phosphorescent paint was applied to pavements to aid pedestrians during the blackout. “In the spectral geometry that allowed Berliners to orient themselves across the blacked-out city, trams with shaded windows crossed the night, letting out a blue-green glimmer like ignis fatuus or the trail of glow-worms.”
With the war going badly for Germany, the atmosphere of suspicion, intrigue and rumour has reached fever pitch. Little wonder that Bora feels distinctly uneasy about being approached by his old commander, now in a fragile mental state, who claims to have knowledge of a secret that could endanger them both. That secret, as trailed in the blurb, is the attempt to assassinate Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg on 20th July 1944. Knowing from history the harsh punishment meted out to those involved in the (unfortunately) unsuccessful plot introduces an additional element of jeopardy. His knowledge of the plot and the likely repercussions – whether it should succeed or fail – will test Bora’s loyalty.
As with previous books, the reader gets a direct insight into Bora’s thoughts through extracts from his personal diary. It’s the only place he feels able to unburden himself, although it may be just a little too much introspection for some readers. For me, it added to the impression of him as a thoughtful, observant, perceptive but rather solitary man who prides himself on his ability to control his emotions and is a formidable opponent when the situation demands it. I thought his devotion to his mother, Nina, one of his most attractive characteristics, even if she is one of the few women to command his respect.
Bora observes at one point, “Order and disorder are the only two states of being. By inclination he belonged to the first, yet he repeatedly found himself in the second.” That contradiction is what makes Bora such a fascinating, multifaceted character and The Night of Shooting Stars such an interesting and rewarding read. Will Bora survive to return in an eighth book? You’ll have to read The Night of Shooting Stars to find out.
The Night of Shooting Stars – in fact, the whole Martin Bora series – would be perfect for readers mourning the end of (the late lamented) Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series.
In three words: Gripping, tense, authentic
Try something similar: The Man From Berlin (Gregor Reinhardt #1) by Luke McCallin
About the Author
Ben Pastor was born in Italy and lived for thirty years in the United States, working as a university professor in Vermont. She has now returned to Italy and is the author of novels including The Water Thief and The Fire Waker (published to high acclaim in the US by St. Martin’s Press). She is considered one of the most talented writers in the field of historical fiction.