The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian’s brilliantly crafted historical novel, begins 'on the first Tuesday of June in 1955,' in the voice of an anonymous killer who describes his lurid executions with a morbid insouciance... Setting his story in the glorious Italian hills south of Florence, the author switches back and forth from the mid-1940s, while the war is raging, to the mid-’50s, when the murders take place ... alternating time frame keeps the reader suspicious of everyone, but whether likable or loathsome, Bohjalian’s characters are utterly compelling ... Bohjalian repeatedly confronts us with the moral dilemmas of wartime ... In this novel, Bohjalian contemplates painful choices while offering a tour-de-force murder mystery, heartbreaking romance and a dazzling denouement that will tear your heart out.
Yes, over the first few pages, The Light in the Ruins has all the characteristics of a potboiler, a grisly whodunit. But as is always the case with a Chris Bohjalian novel, there is nothing typical about it ... The action shifts back and forth in time, from 1943 to 1955 ... As we learn more about the Rosatis, we also uncover layers about the detective investigating the case ... Tension builds as the killer prepares to strike again — even planning to kill the wife and children of the Rosatis' one surviving son. The denouement is dead solid perfect. Bohjalian has written another winner.
The Light in the Ruins elucidates, haunts and raises moral quandaries ...those aspects don't come together smoothly enough to make Chris Bohjalian's 15th novel the fascinating page-turner it aspires to be ... For long passages, the book offers a glimpse of intriguing, lesser-known aspects of World War II ... The family's wartime activities grow increasingly morally complex as the story unspools. These sections are the best pieces of the novel ... The novel's plotting is stronger than the writing, which is often repetitive and in need of better editing ... As a whodunit, the story is at its least effective. Bohjalian offers a few too many clues, and the conclusion is anti-climactic.