From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
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.
The Light in the Ruins is an interesting story of murder, revenge, art preservation, and survival during war-torn Italy. The Rosatis were once a wealthy Italian family of noble lineage that barely survived World War II. Ten years after the end of the war someone is determined to kill the remaining members and Serafina, the only female homicide detective in Florence, is assigned the case. What follows is a beautiful story of how war changes everything.
I love how the plot gracefully jumps between two time frames: 1955 and the last two years of the Second World War. Bohjalian expertly provides multiple character perspectives and utilizes the flashbacks to build the perfect level of tension and suspense. Usually it is the mystery that keeps me focused on a novel but The Light in the Ruins is different. Instead, I was focused on the moral questions presented by Bohjalian. These included: what do you do when you find yourself allied with the wrong people? And how do you move on when you’ve experienced so many terrible things? Don’t get me wrong; the mystery was good! And I even enjoyed the romance between Cristina and her German soldier, but it was the moral questions that kept me reading. I also want to note that the end tied everything together perfectly (which is awesome) and that I love how Serafina’s personal history wove in and out of the Rosatis’ story.
The only thing I can complain about is the pacing. The Light in the Ruins just reads slow. I first picked up the novel in hardback at the local library and eventually had to return it half finished. I am not normally the type who will go years without finishing a story but the pacing made it hard to come back. The good thing is the story was interesting enough for me to eventually come back and I finished it as an audiobook. This format was perfect in my opinion.
I recommend The Light in the Ruins for lovers of historic mysteries. The setting is beautiful and the topics thought provoking. It provides an interesting look at the struggle to protect Italian art during the war, while also forcing readers to evaluate the political, physical, and moral struggles of Italian citizens surviving the Nazi regime.
Have you read The Light in the Ruins? What are your favorite historic mysteries?