The Light in the Ruins
by Chris Bohjalian
published by Doubleday
borrowed from the library
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. (from Goodreads)
I have been a fan of Chris Bohjalian since I read Midwives many years ago. I remember being surprised that a male author could tell such a compelling story in a female voice. So began my love of (almost) everything this prolific author has produced. I loved Secrets of Eden and The Double Bind, as well as his recent The Sandcastle Girls, which I reviewed on this blog. I haven’t yet read Before You Know Kindness, but it is on my list! What I find most surprising about this author is his ability to make every book he writes almost completely different from anything he has written previously. Each book is beautifully written, with well established character, yet each are originals. The Light in the Ruins continues this.
What begins as a murder mystery slowly intertwines with an historical drama. We begin the story with the brutal murder of Francesca Rosati in 1955. She is the widowed daughter in law of the once prominent Rosati family. The killer addresses the audience and his hatred of the family is tied back to the late days of the war, in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. The story goes back and forth between Florence in 1955, where the female detective Serafina Bettini is working to catch the killer, and 1943 Tuscany at the family’s beautiful Villa Chimera. The suspense slowly builds as the author brings the countryside to life for the reader. I think one of Bohjalian’s best talents lie here- in making you see, feel, and experience a place so well.
I definitely recommend this book, as I would most of Bohjalian’s work. The only book that I will not rave about was The Night Strangers, which, while well written, just wasn’t my style. I am trying to pull my mom into this author’s camp also. Put this one on your TBR list right now-at the top!
4.5 out of 5