Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

 In the past, I haven't been a huge Chris Bohjalian fan, but this one has changed my mind.  The Light in the Ruins is a tightly written mystery story with two plots and two narrators.

There is the story of Italian partisans battling the Fascists in Tuscany, and of the Rosati family, demi-royals who lived on a huge estate with hundreds of acres of wine grapes and an ancient Etrucan burial ground and who were viewed by the partisans as collaborating with the Nazis.

Then there is the story of a  murder in Florence in 1955  (the first of several by a serial killer who is one of the narrators of the book.)  The police detective assigned to the case is Serafina, the first female detective ever to hold this position in Florence.  As it turns out, Serafina grew up near the Rosati family who now appear to be the target of this demented killer.

As Serafina tracks her prey, she must also relive her days as a partisan, including the agony suffered when she was critically burnt and left for dead.  The victims' family does not immediately recognize or acknowledge her, and she is drawn into the story of their cooperation with the Nazis in the hopes of maintaining their lives and property.

I found this tale fascinating:  the background and story of the struggles of the Italian people during WWII were eye-opening.  Although Bohjalian does not overwhelm us with tons of information, he manages to present enough to help the reader fix the situation in overall historical perspective, and to understand the sympathies both of the Partisans and the collaborators.

Background material aside, it is the unraveling of the story of Serafina that dominates.  Her gradual reawakening to what happened to her, to her understanding of how the Rosatis were involved in her past, and how her past holds the clues to solving the mysteries of the murders of two of the Rosati women.  Convoluted, intertwined, and thoroughly engaging, this story is a spectacular example of the art of writing historical mysteries that impart good history, solid plotting, interesting characters, and a gorgeous setting.

Title: The Light in the Ruins
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Genre: Historial fiction
Subject: Italian collaboration with Nazis; murder
Setting: Florence, Tuscany Italy
Source: Review copy from publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the long-list for the 2013 Maine Readers Choice Award


  1. See, I am a Bohjalian fan and have read all of his books ---except this one, as I am not a huge fan of his historical novels, I prefer contemporary, but sounds like I should reconsider.

  2. I have read several of Bohjalian's books and loved them. I wasn't sure about this one because I'm not a big fan of historical fiction but your review makes me believe it would be a mistake to miss this book. Thank you.

    Actually, I tried to read the book he wrote prior to this one and it, too, was historical fiction and I just couldn't get into it. But I do prefer the setting, Tuscany, in this one much more!

  3. Amy and Diane, thanks for stopping by. I hope you do give them one a try. I enjoyed it immensely and think the setting had a lot to do with my enjoyment.

  4. I still have to read Skeletons at the Feast, but I really want to read this one, too. Glad you really liked it.


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