The Tuscan Child bounces back and forth in time between father (in the 1940s during WWII) and daughter (in the 1970s just after her father’s death, trying to piece together his history.) The father, Sir Hugo Langley, is shot down over a tiny village in Italy called San Salvatore, which is German-occupied at the time. An Italian woman named Sofia with a small son whose husband is missing in action hides and shelters him, and they fall in love.
Meanwhile, Joanna Langley is picking up the pieces of her life after her seriously depressed father has passed away. She found a letter among his things indicating that he was in Italy and he wrote to a woman named Sofia, and of “their beautiful boy.” Who was Sofia? What happened to her? Did they have a child together that Joanna knew nothing about?
She travels to Tuscany (hence the name of the story, though I assume the “child” refers to the “beautiful boy” discussed in the letter) to try to find the answer. While there she is taken in by kind rural Italians who teach her to cook, and there is so much discussion of the food and what they ate that it reminded me a bit of Eat Pray Love. She meets Sofia’s son Renzo, but he is too old to be the “beautiful boy” the letter spoke of. (Also, he’s very attractive.) Eventually Joanna trusts him enough to tell him a bit of why she’s come, to see what he knows about what became of his mother. Unfortunately, not much–all anybody in the town knows is that she was seen driving away with a German soldier and was never seen or heard from again.
And, per all Rhys Bowen’s novels, a dead body turns up that complicates everything. Joanna gets the impression that somebody doesn’t want her asking questions, and for awhile she is framed for the murder. But does Renzo have anything to do with it? Can she trust him? Or is he only pretending to be interested in her to get her alone and finish the job?
I’ve come to expect Rhys Bowen novels (outside of the Royal Spyness mysteries) to have a certain flavor to them: slow-paced, perfect for winding down at the end of a long day, involving lots of details and straight-forward dialogue. (People in her stories seem to say the most obvious things that most authors would omit entirely because it would be understood from the action, and the climactic moments are all, “I will not miss this time,” or “I believe that you find me attractive,” etc. No nuance or psychological complexity at all.) There’s always a little romance, though it’s not the main plot by any means. The stories always turn into mysteries sooner or later, but it’s a slow boil, and takes a long time to even reveal what the mystery is. Then there are always a few surprising twists at the end. Nothing too memorable or gripping, but you know exactly what you’re getting, and it’s always entertaining.
My rating: ***1/2
Sexual content: a little but very tastefully done
Violence: a little but not at all gratuitous
Political content: none (it’s historical)