THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian is a psychological thriller that will have your heart pounding one minute, then leave you in tears the next.
The first couple pages set the tone. It’s 1955 and the killer is explaining how he or she just killed Francesca Rosati, the daughter-in-law of a Tuscan marchese. He cut out her heart.
I really wasn’t expecting that. But the next chapter is set in 1943. Villa Chimera is set in the magical countryside of Tuscany, outside Florence, in the hills. What a different, much lighter atmosphere we encounter, at first. Christina Rosati is 18 years-old. World War II is closing in on Italy. But it still hasn’t really touched the life of this young woman. Not yet. She is enjoying her time, lying by the pool and frolicking in the wildflowers, riding her horse Arabella and playing with her adorable niece and nephew.
Christina has two brothers. Marco has been sent to Sicily to work with the Germans. Vittore is working in Florence within the Uffizi, helping with the artifacts. His wife, Francesca, is living in the family villa with their two children.
Antonio and Beatrice are Christina’s parents. And they are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, and not a good one. Everything their family has stood for is about to be destroyed, all in the name of war and greed.
At this point in the story, the Germans are their allies. And we find Italians working and socializing side by side. When two young soldiers arrive at the villa, they are welcomed by Christina. They are treated with disdain by her sister-in-law Francesca. Christina is a young girl who has missed out on many things. She has had to cut her education short, and she has no friends or young men in her life. So when a handsome young German soldier pays attention to her she feels herself awakening. As it goes into motion you know what must happen. But have no power to slow or stop it.
As the war quickens, then takes hold of Italy, Antonio is squeezed into entertaining the Germans who arrive to enjoy his hospitality and to see the Etruscan tomb on their property. And they keep coming, and bringing others. You can imagine what the locals are thinking. The partisans see a traitor. They do not understand what is actually happening.
The story is told in alternating chapters: 1943 and 1955. The murders began in 1955, in Florence. And the police investigator is Serafina Bettini, a beautiful woman with her own tragic past. With her scarred face and back, we slowly learn her story. She is a strong woman: gutsy and smart. She is there at the scene of the first murder, taking it all in, and seeing the blood and gore, firsthand.
Tucked within chapters you’ll find first person narrative from the killer. It certainly adds to the mystery. And also challenges the senses, dispelling any notion that the sex of the murderer is man or woman. Who is this? Why are they killing this family, one by one? And, yes, another member of the family is murdered, in the same manner, soon after the first. Who will be next?
I’ve traveled extensively in Tuscany and Rome. I was delighted with the scenes in the countryside. If I closed my eyes, I could have been there. I could even hear the twitter of the birds at sunset. And taste the wild boar and smell the red wine. Just had to add this photo of the cheeses in the window of a shop in Pienzo.
Chris Bohjalian continues to raise the bar for himself. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS, once again, puts him at the top of his game. We are so lucky to have a novelist of this magnitude. He is so versatile. The topics he chooses to write about are diverse. And I feel as if I am learning something important with each book. I can’t help but wonder if Chris is working on another book, yet. I can’t wait.
I have Doubleday Publishing to thank for my galley. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohgalian will go on sale on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Thank you so much! You have another winner on your hands.