VILLA TRISTE by Lucretia Grindle takes place in Florence, Italy, and shifts back and forth in time. The story begins during ww11 with an Italian family working together to save Jewish refuges by smuggling them out of the country. The contemporary story switches to a mystery. We begin with an old man found dead in his flat in Florence; he’s been shot and has had salt stuffed in his mouth. We discover he was a partisan.
Partisans. Those ordinary citizens who took a quiet, secret, stand against the tyranny of the enemy. These are the everyday people who put their lives on the line each time they dared to smuggle a radio into a household, send a message illegally, and take to the streets and back alleyways to save the lives of innocent people who just happen to be Jewish.
Inspector Alessandro Pallioti is a real character. He is called to the scene of the first crime and shown the body; the dead man has had a mouthful of salt shoved into his mouth. Odd. Until he finds out what that means.
There is a scene during the war where an ambulance is smuggling a family of Jews across the border. Our young German partisan has to make a snap decision; has to come up with something on the spot to keep the border guard from opening the back door of the conveyance. It is startling and totally out of character and devastating to her future. It’s scenes such as this that take a story from being a good story to being a great story.
The book begins in 1943 with Caterina Cammacio preparing for her wedding. But not for long. There are far more pressing matters to deal with. The war is creating havoc in Florence and its countryside. Isabella, Cat’s sister, is already involved with the underground series of partisans. She garners the unwilling aid of Caterina; now the entire family is in the thick of it.Little is written about the 35,000 women who participated as partisans in Italy during the way. There were regular women, untrained in war tactics, but strong and determined to help in any way they could, damn the consequences! There is a plaque in Florence to honor all the partisans.I found the characters sharp and true-to-life. The story is one I’m interested in: Italy. ww11. But I sure wish there had been more about Florence, both then and now. I liked the part of the novel in 1943-1944 better than the more modern one. I borrowed this book. It is a huge read: 600 pages. Could have been much shorter. But, all in all, a good story.