Tag Archives: Ben Pastor

The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor (Bitter Lemon Press, 2004/2019)


Yesterday I finished reading the sixth of Ben Pastor’s Martin Bora detective novels, THE HORSEMAN’S SONG. I wanted to highlight this one because it might interest some of you. It’s a ‘flashback’ novel, set three years before the beginning of WWII, the setting of the rest of the novels in the series, with a younger Bora as a volunteer for the Nationalists and assigned to Teruel. It’s also the only one of the novels so far where a historical figure plays a major part in the novel. In this case the crime Bora is solving is that of the murder of Federico García Lorca, which in a fictional flight of fancy, takes place in Teruel, not, as history would have it, in Granada. There’s lots of expected homophobia amongst the characters — the homosexuals murdered in the novel are shot in the crotch — there’s a doubling with Bora on one side and a world-weary American counterpart  — Phillip Walton —  on the other. They’re structural opposites: Bora a German Baron from Leipzig, Phillip a working class, world weary roué from Eden, Vermont; both in thrall of the same woman, Remedios. One can see why this would interest Fredric Jameson enough to write on it*: two idealists trying to battle for a utopian ideal but landing on different sides (one of the things that makes this series so interesting is that the hero is a German but not Nazi officer, who has nonetheless sworn fealty to Hitler). There’s also a very good depiction Teruel becoming ‘Teruel’, and a really interesting use of Lorca’s poetry throughout (it’s where the novel gets its title). It also features quite a lot of steamy if tactful sex scenes from Bora’s point of view — thus Maria Verbena Volpi, writing as Ben Pastor, creating a male point of view on sex with a woman. I found it all really interesting, and all his books are page-turners. I’ve clearly been obsessed. It’s been almost six of these novels in the last week.

. The photograph illustrating THE HORSEMAN’S SONG is a very famous one by another mythic figure — Robert Capa.

*Fredric Jameson, ‘War as a Rhizome: Fredric Jameson on Ben Pastor’s Martin Bora Novels’, London Review of Books, vol 44, no. 15, 4 August 2022, pp. 15-18


If you speak Spanish, an excellent discussion of Lorca’s death featuring Lorca’s biographer  Ian Gibson may be seen here and is very interesting to compare to the novel’s plot:


José Arroyo



A note on Ben Pastor’s Lumen

Yesterday I finished reading Ben Pastor’s Lumen, which I highly recommend. I got turned onto Ben Pastor by Fredric Jameson’s recent article on genre in the London Review. I only skimmed Jameson and felt I didn’t want to put the work of understanding into it until I read at least one of the novels he used as a basis for the argument; and I’m very glad I did.

Lumen is set in occupied Poland in 1940. Mother Kazimierza, who is said to perform miracles, is shot dead in the convent garden whilst praying. A German General had just been to see her, there were Polish workmen working in the convent that day, some of which might have been partisans; also, none of the nuns liked her. Yet, no one seems to have a clear motive. The murder of someone many consider a saint is so explosive in a recently occupied Catholic country that Wahrmacht Captain Martin Bora is sent to investigate. He’s a highly educated upper-class Catholic, methodical, disciplined, madly in love with his wife and a lover of music. Father Malecki, a working class American from Chicago of Polish origin, who’d been sent to Cracow by the Vatican to investigate Mother Kazimierza’s miracles, will reluctantly join forces with Bora. The US is still neutral and Malecki is not as vulnerable as all the other locals, religious or not, who are constantly being rounded up on the edges of the narrative.

The Holocaust in process is ever present – Auschwitz is not far – but is kept largely on the margins: Bora is billeted in the former home of a Jewish playwright, Bora and Retz, his heavy-drinking womanizer of a room-mate go shopping for shoes in the Cracow ghetto; a nun of Jewish origin gets carted off on Christmas day…and so on.

Bora is solving a crime, he is making judgments and attributing guilt in a context where all of these things are constantly being muddied up, shifting, where training, loyalties and reason confront ethics and morality; where military hierarchies, precedent and law rub up against justice. The furnaces of Auschwitz are burning, a people are illegally occupied, the SS are reported by Bora to be breaking international conventions, the Russians are committing more atrocities on shared front lines. What are justice, guilt, conscience, morality and ethics in this context? Indeed, when is a crime a crime?

A brilliant detective novel, which I’m perhaps making seem more grim than it reads. The plot is so taut and the writing so efficient that one is completely immersed in the characters and the crime. I’m now on the second one.

Ben Pastor is the pseudonym of Maria Verbena Volpi, which adds yet another interesting twist.

José Arroyo