1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Read more...
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1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate's gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis' bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case--a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood--Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, "The Light in the Ruins" unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-27
- Reviewer: Staff
An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this well-crafted novel from Bohjalian (The Sandcastle Girls). In 1952 Florence, Francesca Rosati, a dress-shop worker, is brutally murdered by a killer who carves out her heart, and Detective Serafina Bettini is assigned to solve the homicide. She discovers Francesca had married into the once wealthy and powerful Rosati family, who owned a large estate in the same hills near Florence where Serafina fought as a partisan. The Rosatis, headed by matriarch Beatrice, hosted Nazi officers on their property during the war, breeding deep animosity among the local populace. Serafina’s belief that Francesca’s murder is linked to this lingering resentment of the family is strengthened after another Rosati is found dead. The investigation leads Serafina back to the former Rosati estate, and she learns that the family’s wartime record was more complicated than it appears. Meanwhile, in a series of short chapters, the vengeful serial killer vows to destroy the surviving Rosatis. Bohjalian tips his hand too early as to the killer’s identity, but otherwise delivers an entertaining historical whodunit. Agent: Jane Gelfman, Gelfman Schneider. (July)
Murders in Italy trace back to WWII secrets
In his 15 previous novels, Chris Bohjalian has delved into a potpourri of weighty topics, including environmental activism, medical malpractice suits and interracial adoption. Some of his more recent novels are injected with an element of mystery, and he continues on that track with his latest—a brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story.
This gripping novel opens in Florence in 1955 with the brutal murder of Francesca Rosati, daughter-in-law of Antonio and Beatrice Rosati.
Serafina Bettini is part of the homicide unit investigating Francesca’s murder, and she first interviews Cristina, the Rosatis’ only daughter, who discovered the body. In only a few days her mother, Beatrice, is murdered in the same manner, and it becomes clear that a serial killer is methodically eliminating the Rosati family one at a time. Wondering if the motive may trace back to the war years when the villa was occupied for a time by supporters of Mussolini, Serafina questions Cristina about her family’s involvement with either the Nazis or the local partisans trying to sabotage the Nazi efforts, bringing up painful memories.
Bohjalian deftly ties together the stories of these two young women as the killer is identified and the long-harbored revenge is revealed. He succeeds in turning a historical novel into a page-turner that the reader will not soon forget.