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      BEN PASTOR: THE HORSEMAN'S SONG.       

Price: £8.99 

Bitter Lemon Press

         

Fans of crime author Ben Pastor will be well pleased.  Her introverted, thoughtful and alienated detective Martin Bora returns for his sixth mystery.  The Horseman’s Song is set in the Spanish Civil War.  Bora is a young man.  Marriage and the Second World War, which feature in the other books in the series, await him in the future.  If Bora struggling to find sense between battling fascists and idealists is not enough to tempt readers, The Horseman’s Song has the splendid idea of Bora investigating the murder of Spanish icon Federico Garcia Lorca.   When it appears, the poetry of Lorca is a valuable addition to the text although it is a pity that it is not also quoted in the original Spanish.  This could have been done, especially when the poetry begins a chapter. 

The Horseman’s Song has similarities to For Whom The Bell Tolls by Hemingway.  Philip Walton is another complicated and unsatisfied American idealist fighting for the International Brigades.  No one in The Horseman’s Song talks about feeling the earth move but sex is important to what happens in the plot.   Bora and Walton share a passion for Remedios, the whore who has a clairvoyant gift and is known as the witch.  Her presence and charms inspire both rivalry and soul searching in Bora and Walton. The sexuality of Lorca also plays a part in his destiny and destruction.   The sexism of the time is handled well.  Neither Bora nor Walton is interested in equality with the female gender but their limitations, rather than preventing sympathy, make us curious about what will happen to these well-meaning males.

Pastor is an ambitious writer.   She has a comprehensive imagination and a sharp eye for detail.  This can be overdone but it is a small price to pay.  As in her other Bora novels, Pastor delivers a rewarding historical context. The Horseman’s Song exists as a novel about two different men obliged to experience a similar existence.  This theme needs complex characterisation and it has to occur within a murder mystery.  Bora and Walton are not settled individuals.  Both are worthwhile and responsible but they are also self-centred.  The young Bora is haunted by the possibilities for his future.  Walton is perplexed by his past and, because of it, what should happen next.  The posthumous presence of Lorca is not over extended.  It both divides and unties the two men.  The competition between them is not about who should be superior but who and what should prevail.  Both working in a foreign land and in extreme circumstances their enquiries constitute a quest rather than a mere investigation.  The relationship between the two men progresses but avoids a pat or neat conclusion that would mar the telling of the tale.  For once a postscript adds real value to a mystery novel.

Pastor is good at describing both the landscape and weather.  The Horseman’s Song captures the physical hardship and relief endured by Bora and Walton and its consequences for the spirit of two men not certain about who their antagonists may be.  If this sounds over serious, the revelation at the end is a decent surprise.

By Howard Jackson