Chris Bohjalian is a cross-genre author, best known for thought-provoking novels such as Skeletons at the Feast and Secrets of Eden. He writes in many different styles, with different time periods and plots. His last novel, The Night Strangers, was the tale of a pilot who was the only survivor of a plane crash. Haunted by those who perished, the passengers he was responsible for, he relocates his wife and young daughters, trying to start over, only to find something sinister in the small town that is after his family. His new release, The Light in the Ruins, is an altogether different work, a beautifully written historical novel that will leave readers thinking for weeks after completing it.
A woman is brutally murdered. Her heart has been cut out of her chest, and she's been left bloody and cut open, for people to find.
Serafina Bettina, the first female homicide detective in Florence (the year is 1955) is assigned to the case. She can't understand the horrific nature of the crime and is convinced that, because of the sheer viciousness of it, that the murderer must have had a personal motive.
As she begins looking into the victim, a young widow named Francesca Rosati, Serafina realizes her murder may be connected to dark events that occurred in Italy during World War II.
Years earlier, Francesca was at home, at the Rosati villa in the Tuscan countryside, when two Nazis came knocking at the door. Though she held contempt and distaste for everything the Nazis stood for, she was forced to allow them inside her husband's family home to allow them to accomplish what they came for — to see the famous Etruscan tombs located on the family lands.
Francesca is relieved to see them go, but this is just a harbinger of things to come, of the intertwined destinies of the Rosati family and the Nazis who occupied Italy during World War II.
As Serafina begins to dig into the family's past to try and understand what really happened all those years ago, she also begins to realize she might have her own personal connection to the murder. As past and present collide, and the consequences of long-ago decisions make themselves known, Serafina must wade through murky history to understand what really happened to the Rosati family.
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