Tin Sky

by Ben Pastor

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

Tin Sky is the fourth in an unusual mystery series featuring a German military officer during World War II as detective. The story line is not the obvious one pitting a sympathetic protagonist against Hitler and his henchmen amid the horror of the Holocaust. Here, the murders and mayhem take place around the edges of the central Nazi crime, revealing a more complex picture and a soul-sickness tainting every aspect of life under the regime.

Martin Bora's goals are out of harmony. A fundamentally compassionate man, he also wishes to function effectively in his military role, and to survive and return to the young wife he still barely knows. His past experiences - especially during the horrific and needless Battle of Stalingrad - have hardened him and taught him to suppress his emotions. In May of 1943, posted in Russian-occupied Ukraine, his primary mission is to interrogate a high-ranking Soviet prisoner. His methods are more sophisticated than crude physical torture and offer more promise of success. Meanwhile, he must also deal with a series of grisly murders in a wooded ravine which local peasants insist is haunted by an evil supernatural presence. A new mission soon overshadows these: managing the defection to the Germans of a much-admired Russian tank commander with his impressive new tank. Bora has personal reasons, as well as professional, for wanting to protect this man. But someone on Bora's own side is working against him.

Striking and memorable images make the setting almost tangible: ash raining from distant fires; a collection of icons; a rain-swollen canal rimmed with black mud. The intricacy and layers of duplicity within the military structure make this a complex novel that requires - and repays - close attention from readers. Tin Sky is a superb character study that also works well as a mystery. (2012, 397 pages)

More about Tin Sky at Powell's Books or Amazon.com

Other mystery novels set during or on the eve of the Third Reich:

March Violets by Philip Kerr (1989), about a Berlin detective who specializes in finding missing Jews during the years of Hitler's rise to power; #1 in the Berlin Noir series. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Soldier in the Wheatfield by Philip Hook (1998), about the modern buyer of a German landscape painting whose recent owners all died violently, who discovers it is connected to a World War II mystery involving a German officer. More info

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell (2009), about a woman crime reporter in 1931 Berlin searching for the killer of her brother, a cross-dressing lounge singer; #1 in the Hannah Vogel mystery series. More info

Nonfiction about the experiences of German soldiers in World War II:

Survivors of Stalingrad: Eyewitness Accounts from the Sixth Army, 1942-1943 by Reinhold Busch (2012 in the original German, English translation 2014), about the experiences of German troops. More info

Blood Red Snow: The Memoirs of a German Soldier on the Eastern Front by Günter K. Koschorrek (1998 in the original German, English translation 2005). More info

Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by a Soldier of the Waffen-SS by Johann Voss (2002). More info


8 Things You Should Know About WWII's Eastern Front at History.com

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