Lumen by Ben Pastor

When Lumen by Ben Pastor came out last year I added it to the TBR pile as it seemed like a creative and interesting read. But it got buried and forgotten under a pile of other “must reads” and a shifting reading list.  So when I heard another book starring Martin Bora, Liar Moon, was to be released I decided I wanted to go back and read the growing series in order.

Here is a snippet from the  publisher’s blurb that intrigued me:

Part wartime political intrigue, detective story, psychological thriller, and religious mystery, Ben Pastor’s debut follows a German army captain and a Chicago priest as they investigate the death of a nun in Nazi-occupied Poland.

I am glad I went back and read Lumen in anticipation of Liar Moon. I found it to be an interesting psychological exploration of what it might be liked to be trapped between Prussian duty and one’s own moral code on the one hand and being a Captain in the Nazi army as it invades Poland on the other.

There is a mystery at the center of the plot but it is the attempts of the lead character, Captain Martin Bora, to maneuver through his work without either losing his soul or his career (or maybe even his life) that is the real focus.  Pastor has that rare ability to place us within history and allow us to see it from the ground; to in a sense see it through other’s eyes.  This is not easy given the historical events involved.

Lumen is full of colorful characters (from Bora’s insufferable roommate and the women he seduces, to his  superiors in the Wehrmacht, or the sisters in the abbey and the visiting Chicagoan Father Malecki) and a brooding sense of tragedy.

Publishers Weekly gets at the heart of what makes this book interesting:

Pastor’s examination of Bora and his colleagues illuminates the many contradictions of life in the service of a criminal state. The narrative’s explications of Catholic belief and theology defy readers to reconcile faith, or inner light (lumen) of any kind, with the realities of the Nazi regime. Pastor’s plot is well crafted, her prose sharp, but her novel is meant to be more than light entertainment. She raises again the questions recently posed by Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader: how can art explore the human side of a victimizer without seeming to forgive the unforgivable? Pastor’s disturbing mix of detection and reflection is a provocative though not definitive answer.

If you like historical mystery with an added moral or philosophical dimension be sure to check out the Martin Bora series.  I will report back on Liar Moon when I am finished.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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