I just finished The Tuscan Child, a 2018 novel by Rhys Bowen. It’s the first book I’ve read by her. Although I can’t remember why I picked up the book (it’s way outside of the usual thrillers I’d read), it’s a worthwhile read.
It’s a genre story in the cozy mystery category, so it’s different than what I usually read – for example, there’s no body at all until mid way through the story, which is remarkable if for no other reason than half the story takes place in WW II Italy.
The story is about a WW II British bomber pilot who is shot down over occupied Tuscany in the waning months of the war. The Allies are advancing, although the area where he is shot down is still held by the Germans. The pilot, Hugo Langley, is badly injured in the plane crash and takes refuge in a bombed-out monastery near the crash site. He is discovered by a young woman, Sofia, who is foraging for food. Sofia’s husband, conscripted into the Italian army, has been lost and presumed dead in wartime Africa, leaving Sofia to raise their small boy alone in a remote Tuscan village a few miles from the monastery where Hugo is hiding. While she nurses him back to health, they (predicably) fall in love.
Hugo is later rescued and returns to England after the war, only to find out that his titled father has died, leaving Hugo as the next Lord Langley, along with a crumbling family estate and a large estate tax bill. Almost thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter Joanna (born several years after the war) is notified that her reclusive father has died, and she returns to the family home to arrange for his funeral and to clear up his estate. Among his personal effects, she finds an unopened letter to Sofia from her father dated immediately after his return from the war. The letter had been returned to him marked undeliverable. It’s a surprising discovery, because the letter mentions a beautiful baby boy.
Wondering whether she has a half sibling in Tuscany, Joanna leaves immediately for the small town in Italy where she believes Sofia might still be living. When she arrives there, she soon discovers that some of the townspeople do not want the past brought up. Joanna persists and what she finally uncovers is even more startling (and dangerous) that what she’d thought.
It’s an interesting story structurally in that the chapters alternate between a third person narrative of Hugo’s wartime story of the crash, his injuries and his relationship with Sofia, shifting to chapters told in the first person by Joanna in the early 1970s as she finds out about her father’s death and her subsequent trip to Tuscany.
There’s plenty of Tuscan atmosphere to satisfy Under The Tuscan Sun fans. While I’m not a big cozy mystery fan, this book was pretty good.