Monday, October 21, 2013

The Light in the Ruins - Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian's latest book revisits World War II and the aftermath of its toll on the Italian citizenry. The story begins with the noble Rosati family, living in rural seclusion during the final days of WWII on their Tuscan estate. The attention of the Germans is drawn to the estate because of an archaeological site discovered years earlier by the family. A burial chamber with lovely wall murals and the vestiges of the burial biers and sarcophagi. Looking to form hard connections between the early Etruscans and Aryan bloodlines, the Germans come to look over the site and perhaps confiscate artifacts. In the process, members of the German search team become connected to the Rosati family. This puts the Rosatis in a difficult situation, as the Tuscan hills are full of partisans who are fighting against the Reich and the Fascist government of Mussolini. The locals and partisans may look at the family as betrayers of Italian freedom.

Fast forward ten years to Florence. One of the Rosati women is brutally murdered and butchered in her small city apartment. The homicide police called in to investigate the case are familiar with the family, as they were partisan fighters in Tuscany years earlier. In investigating the case, one of the investigators is 'taken back' to a particularly harrowing battle between the German/Fascist troops and the rebel fighters. Her scant memories, due to severe injury during the battle, become mixed up in her ability to investigate this murder.

So, two mysteries unfold. What has the Rosati family done to incur a wrath so intense that a family vendetta is being carried out against them and how will the young policewoman resolve her war memories and use them to solve a series of brutal crimes ?

I had to parcel out this book, as I wanted to enjoy a slow build to the climax of the story. The intermingling of past and  present in the telling of the story and the short italicized snippets in which we enter the mind of the murderer are really well done. Too fast a read, I think, would take away from the sinister stalking of the murderer, the slow and incremental building of memories within Investigator Bettini, and the slow exposure of the Rosati family's activities during the last months of the war.

I have loved every book that I've read by Chris Bohjalian. He has a terrific way of taking parallel stories and weaving them together seamlessly. Once again, he has delivered a great read.

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