It’s hard to classify The Light in the Ruins. Is it a thriller, a war story, a love story, a murder mystery? It’s all of the above. It’s a gripping tale that takes readers back and forth between the last years of World War II and 1955 with the perspectives of a young girl in war torn Tuscany, her family and German lover from 1943-45 to updates from those same people in 1955, but with the addition of a maniacal killer and a war damaged female police detective in Florence. The different scenarios and dates might be confusing in the hands of a less talented author, but Bohjalian makes the transitions flow.
The book begins with the brutal murder of a member of the Rosati family, a Tuscan family of noble lineage. The killer is not content to merely take her life but cuts out her heart and leaves it in an ashtray on the vanity. Another family member is soon murdered the same way and others are clearly in danger.
It’s perplexing, and the reader as well as the police quickly decide there’s a connection to events that happened at the Rosatis’ villa as German and Italian soldiers brought the war to the family’s peaceful home. An ancient Etruscan burial site on the family’s property is of great interest to the invading Germans who’re intent on pillaging the region’s art and artifacts. It’s a time of gut wrenching moral dilemmas and struggles with some heart breaking results.
This book is well written and fast paced. You will want to race through it to learn who the fiendish killer is as your mind considers first and then another suspect, but the identity is not revealed until the end.
Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of 17 books, including nine New York Times bestsellers. His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by numerous publications and translated into 25 languages. He has won many awards and has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines. Among his best known books are The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind and Midwives. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Amherst College and lives in Vermont.