Posted: December 8, 2014 in Book Awards, Historical, Italy, review

Von Bora 3A Dark Song of Blood by Ben Pastor [Maria Verbena Volpi] is grown up crime fiction, a fine book that raises difficult moral questions concerning loyalty to one’s country, a cause and the church.

The third book in the Major Martin Bora series finds the anguished war wounded officer in Rome during that period in 1944, when the Allies were battering the German defences round Monte Cassino, and shortly after the start of the book have landed at Anzio. It has been said that the Second World War was simple you shot everything in front off you. The situation in Rome is much more complex for the anti-Nazi Martin Bora. He mixes with the upper echelons of Italian society, and the Vatican hierarchy, but has to watch his back as Italian Fascists, German SS, Gestapo, the Resistance, and the Wehrmacht are all struggling for a fleeting advantage in a rapidly deteriorating situation. DSC00301

Martin Bora and Italian policeman Sandro Guidi must investigate the suspected murder of  Magda Reiner, a German Embassy secretary, who has “accidentally” fallen from a fourth floor window to her death. Magda has had several lovers, and one of them Merlo is Secretary General of the National Union of Fascists. Dr Caruso the head of Rome’s police tells Guidi……

“Keep looking into the dossier, there’s plenty about His Excellency’s goings-on. The Germans want his neck so prove he killed her.”

When Bora’s elderly university teacher now a cardinal is found with a Roman society lady in a compromising position, both shot dead, he has to examine his conscience and face the corruption all around him and investigate two more murders. 

DSC00297As well as the relationship between the Third Reich and the Vatican, the fate of Rome’s Jews, and the civil war in Italy, A Dark Song of Blood also deals with the less serious subjects of Sandro Guidi’s lust for the mysterious and pregnant Francesca, Bora’s rocky marriage to the ice queen Benedikta and his obsession with the glamorous Mrs Murphy. 

“Sometimes you leave people to set them free, as I did with your stepfather. Of course it was impossible, in our position, to stay married after Sarajevo started the Great War. It worked out for the best. He found your mother and married her happily, and I fell in love with D’Annunzio.”

A Dark Song of Blood is one of the best books I have read this year, cleverly blending real life events and characters, such as Field Marshall Kesselring, in with the fictional narrative producing a work that is both a mystery and a worthy historical record.

Ben Pastor was born in Italy but lived for thirty years in the United States working as a university professor in Vermont. 

My review of Lumen at Euro Crime. 

My review of Liar Moon at Euro Crime.


The good news is that the next Martin Bora novel Tin Sky is due out in April next year.




  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – As ever, a fine review. And I respect an author who acknowledges the complexity of a situation, era, etc., while writing about it. There is a lot of moral ambiguity in real life, and it adds to a novel when that fact is acknowledged.

  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    I’m glad you have reviewed this one Norman, I need to star reading this series sooner rather than later.

  3. Norman Price says:

    Margot and Jose Ignacio, my wife and I have had a miserable four weeks of illness, upper respiratory tract virus. I managed to start another book and read 200 pages in that period.
    But I still remember the pleasure reading the Ben Pastor, in the period BC. Before coughing.

    I have always been fascinated by this period in Italian history.

  4. Rena says:

    Hi I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your reviews very much. I have been reading a number of your recommendations. Thank You Rena

    Sent from my gray matter


  5. This does sound good – author a new one to me, but your review makes me want to read it. And I hope you recover soon!

  6. tracybham says:

    Well, I am glad I came back and caught up after some very tiring, busy weeks. I know I have read about this author before, but this really put this series on my radar. Thanks.

  7. […] Dark Song of Blood has been reviewed at Crime Scraps Review (Norman) Crime Time (Giles Morgan), Crime Review (Chris Roberts), The View from the Blue House […]

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