The latest novel from Chris Bohjalian, The Light in the Ruins is an amazing accomplishment: historical fiction, suspenseful who-dun-it and a compelling character study meshed into a fascinating novel. Moving effortlessly between 1943 and 1955 Florence, Italy, the story follows police investigator Serafina Bettini as she investigates a series of grisly murders involving the Rosati family. The Rosati’s history intersects with Serafina’s own mysterious past and the actions of many in the waning days of WWII.
As an avid reader of historical fiction, I have read countless novels set during WWII in various countries: England, France, the US, and Germany, but this is the first work of fiction that I can remember reading set in Italy. Bohjalian does a wonderful job of bringing history to life through his characters and events without devolving into a history lesson or list of events and characters. Italy in 1943 was facing the reality that that their German allies had become their occupiers. The variety of feelings and reactions to the Germans from the Italians in the novel reminds the reader of the depth of confusion and complexity of the ever-changing dynamics of WWII. (more…)
The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold is a book for book lovers. The novel tells the story of Chloe Sinclair as she struggles to understand both her past and her present. Her husband Nate has disappeared, leaving only a note behind saying he has returned to his childhood home; the last place Chloe would ever go. The mysteries and tragedies under the surface of their marriage are always present in the story, and each glimpse into the past makes Chloe’s current feelings more understandable. (more…)
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke is a novel that is hard to place in any one genre. Set on a lush, sprawling Louisiana plantation, the story combines mysteries old and new with suspense, racial issues and family drama. Locke’s debut novel Black Water Rising received rave reviews and many awards, so I was excited to read her latest novel The Cutting Season. Locke’s ability to write mysteries with depth, complexity and rich characters make her an exciting author to read.
The Cutting Season’s Caren Gray is the most aptly named character I’ve read in a long time. There are no black and white characters or ideas in The Cutting Season. Caren Gray grew up as the cook’s daughter at Belle Vie, a sugarcane plantation. The plantation is farmed by a corporation using immigrant laborers, but Gray’s family has been at Belle Vie since it was worked by slaves. Caren is a well-educated, intelligent black woman, who has come back to her Belle Vie for reasons that are murky at the outset of the novel. She is a single mother raising her 9 year old daughter while working at Belle Vie as the manager of the plantation, now used for historical tours, weddings and parties. (more…)
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
I don’t often seek out mystery, thriller or detective novels, but The Last Policeman caught my eye when I saw it described as “pre-apocalyptic police procedural.” The book is the first in a planned trilogy which won an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original for 2013. If authors like a writer, they are worth checking out. I was not disappointed, and enjoyed reading outside of my traditional comfort zone of genres.
What would you do if you knew the world as we know it would end in six months? Would you keep working? Travel the world? Or just choose to opt out of life now rather than face an uncertain future of pain and suffering? That’s the world the reader enters in The Last Policeman. (more…)by Kate