WAR’S LASTING AFTERMATH
With his 15th novel, The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian offers up a fascinating crime story set in Italy in the 1950s. When a beautiful widow named Francesca Rosati is brutally murdered in Florence, it’s at the hands of a serial killer who’s stalking members of her family. Detective Serafina Bettini believes the crime may have roots in World War II, when Francesca lived with her in-laws and children on an estate in Tuscany. The Nazis were drawn to the estate, thanks to the presence of an Etruscan tomb on the property, and they made themselves at home there. Adding another twist to the Rosatis’ story is the affair Francesca’s sister-in-law had with a Nazi officer. Serafina, who bears her own scars from the war, has a few secrets of her own, and they weigh on her mind as she seeks Francesca’s killer. Deftly flashing back to wartime Italy, Bohjalian has created a compelling and complex narrative. He’s a daring writer who isn’t afraid to take risks, as this fast-paced historical thriller demonstrates.

INSIDE STORY
Adelle Waldman’s debut, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., is a sharply observed novel-of-manners about an up-and-coming writer who pursues love in New York City. When Nate Piven sells his first book, he’s on top of the world. His romantic life is also abuzz with activity, as his ex, Elisa, and writer friend, Hannah, both want to spend time with him. When his connection with Hannah deepens, Nate makes a habit of faulting her for any problems that arise, and Hannah—a level-headed, self-possessed young woman—soon finds herself in the grip of new insecurities. Since the story is told in Nate’s voice, it soon becomes clear to the reader that he thinks a little too well of himself—he’s an educated, liberal-minded guy, but he’s clueless about his own shortcomings. Waldman cleverly uses Nate as the subject of what turns out to be a shrewd study of contemporary male behavior. She writes with amazing authenticity from a man’s perspective and has woven a darkly humorous narrative around her brilliant but sometimes oblivious antihero.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s chilling 2012 bestseller, is available in paperback—at last. This intriguing novel starts out harmlessly enough, as Nick Dunne and his smart, beautiful wife, Amy, celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary at their new home in Missouri. But when Amy disappears, Nick becomes the prime suspect. By all appearances, some sort of struggle took place in the Dunnes’ house, and more evidence comes to light indicating Nick’s guilt. Yet—despite the formidable case that’s built against him—he protests that he’s innocent. The novel is related from his perspective and from Amy’s, and the result of these skillful shifts in point of view is a narrative world that’s disturbing in its uncertainty. When the truth behind Amy’s disappearance finally becomes clear, it’s a shock to the reader—and a testament to Flynn’s skills and originality as a novelist. Fans of literary fiction and mystery lovers alike will savor this addictive thriller, which is set to debut on movie screens in October.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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