THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS. By Chris Bohjalian. Doubleday. 309 pages. $25.95.
Chris Bohjalian’s “Light in the Ruins” is set against the backdrop of World War II in Italy, a country in turmoil, with Nazis, collaborators and partisans battling it out.
Much of the plot takes place at an idyllic villa south of Florence, owned by the aristocratic Rosati family.
The villa is of special interest to German soldiers looking for art to plunder; the grounds hold Etruscan treasures. Rosati family members find themselves involved in a dangerous game as they play host to the Germans while hoping to protect their family estate.
Fast forward to 1955 in Florence, where two of the Rosati women have been found brutally murdered. Serafina Bettini, the investigator assigned to the case, is a survivor of the war and former partisan.
Looking for a motive, and fearful that there may be more slayings to come, Serafina begins to explore Rosati family history, wondering about long-held hatred and vengeance.
Although Bohjalian has written a literary tale of romance, murder and mystery in exquisite surroundings, the cast of characters seems cliched and without depth.
The conclusion is problematic, too, because the author does not quite make the case for the villain, therefore leaving the reader feeling somehow cheated.
Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer in Charleston.
A TAP ON THE WINDOW. By Linwood Barclay. New American Library. 512 pages. $25.95.
Private detective Cal Weaver makes a simple mistake and destroys everything he holds dear in Linwood Barclay’s new thriller, “A Tap on the Window.”
Weaver and his wife are estranged after the death of their son, Scott. Evidence shows that he took drugs and jumped off a roof while trying to fly. Weaver wants answers, but his wife just wants to move on.
Then one evening a young woman named Claire knocks on Weaver’s car window and asks for a ride. He’s about to turn her down when she mentions that she knew Scott.
He lets her inside the car, and the mystery starts. Soon there is another young woman pretending to be Claire, and the real Claire has vanished. Police have video surveillance showing her getting into Weaver’s car, and because he was the last person to see her, the situation appears grim.
When Weaver digs for answers to uncomfortable questions, he just might expose the terrifying underbelly of corruption and murder that exists in the town.
The tension slowly builds until the novel’s shocking climax.
It’s a complex and surprising mystery skillfully told.
Reviewer Jeff Ayers writes for the Associated Press.