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The Road to Ithaca
Martin Bora WWII Mystery #5
Ben Pastor

Bitter Lemon Press
March 14, 2017/ ISBN 978-1908524805
Mystery & Detective \ Historical

Reviewed by Richard Morelli


In early June 1941, Martin Bora, a captain in the German Abwehr (Intelligence), is sent to Crete to pick up cases of wine for the German embassy in Moscow, but as soon as he lands, he is ordered to investigate the brutal shooting death of a Swiss national that may have been committed by German paratroopers. This story is less about a straight forward police procedural than describing the atmosphere in Crete recently conquered by the Germans. As Bora searches for the truth behind the shooting, we find ourselves drawn into the multifaceted Cretan political landscape of German conquerors, neutral expats, local Greek constabulary, resistance fighters and fugitive Spanish rebels. As with the previous novels, a complex, nuanced picture of occupied Crete emerges as Bora travels to the interior of the island in search of a key witness to the shooting. Along the lines of other authors such as Phillip Kerr and Alan Furst, the tone is one of ambiguity and individual conflicts.

What I enjoyed was Bora’s soul searching as he seeks his witness. He is conflicted, caught between the two worlds of his strict Prussian background (integrity) and his obligations as an officer in the Wehrmacht (duty). Pastor draws explicit parallels between Bora’s journey into the heart of Crete and Odysseus’s Odyssey. The author alternates between Bora’s personal entries into his diary (first person) and the main narrative (third person), which adds to the personal dilemmas faced by Bora. As I moved deeper into the narrative, I forgot at times that this was a mystery.

The power of historical novels is the ability of the author to recreate a reality populated by people struggling to deal with political, personal and ethical challenges confronting them when put into an accurate historical context. The world of The Road to Ithaca is as “real” as the political narratives by historians.

Notes: Ben Pastor is the author of several novels and is considered one of the most talented writers in the field of historical fiction. In 2008, she won the prestigious Premio Zaragoza for best historical fiction.

Reviewed 2017