Book Review: The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

Joanna Langley is distraught when her estranged father dies. Regretting that she didn’t know him better, she travels to the Tuscany region of Italy to find out more about what happened to him when he was shot down in the area during World War II. But someone wants the secrets of the past to stay buried.

This novel shifts between 1973, during which we hear Joanna’s first person account, and 1944, for her father, Hugh’s, side of things. Upon Hugh’s death, Joanna returns to the English country estate where she was raised. It becomes clear that Joanna and her father were not close. He is portrayed as a stereotypical, cold British nobleman who was bitter about his lot in life, and it affected the relationship with his daughter. While going through his belongings, Joanna discovers a letter he wrote to “Sofia” soon after he returned from the the war. Sofia’s address was in Italy and the letter was returned to her father, “address unknown.” Joanna reads the letter and learns that her father was in love with Sofia. The letter also mysteriously refers to hiding a “beautiful boy.”

Her curiosity piqued, Joanna heads to Italy to see what she can find out. She travels to Sofia’s village, only to find that Sofia scandalously disappeared during the war, leaving her young son, Renzo, behind. Undaunted, Joanna begins to find comfort in village life. She tries to discover more about her father’s experience there as he tried to evade the Nazis. When her one potential lead is murdered, Joanna begins to suspect that someone doesn’t want her to find out the truth. That’s okay because she has handsome Renzo and lots of delicious Italian food to provide her comfort.

I came across this book as I was looking through Amazon for good books to read. The premise sounded so promising that I actually bought it, which is saying a lot for this library gal. Novels set in WWII are my literary kryptonite.  Plus, over 2500 reviewers gave it 4.5-ish stars. I thought I had found a winner, but honestly I was disappointed. The writing was not very good. The book was full of strangely stilted dialogue. Plus, some of the plot devices just weren’t credible, including a half brother (whose very existence was a surprise) of Joanna’s suddenly appearing, relinquishing his claim to any inheritance, and just as quickly disappearing. The book was not terrible; it just wasn’t very good.

One thing The Tuscan Child does have going for it – food. This novel made me hungry for fresh, rustic Italian food. Caprese salad, anyone?

Food can be a powerful “character.” What books have you read in which food has been front and center?

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