On a cold, grey day in England, I treated myself to Angela Petch’s latest book which is set in Tuscany. The cover is stunning and I couldn’t wait to start reading.
Corbello, Italy, 1947. A woman and a little boy stagger into the ruins of an old house deep in the forest, wild roses overwhelming the crumbling terracotta walls. Since the war, nowhere has been safe. But they both freeze in shock when a voice calls out from the shadows…
For young mother Fosca Sentino, accepting refuge from reluctant British war hero Richard – in Tuscany to escape his tragic past – is the only way to keep her little family safe. She once risked everything to spy on Nazi commanders and pass secret information to the resistenza. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, Fosca’s best friend Simonetta disappeared without trace. The whole community was torn apart, and now Fosca and her son are outcasts.
Wary of this handsome stranger at first, Fosca slowly starts to feel safe as she watches him play with her son in the overgrown orchard. But her fragile peace is shattered the moment a silver brooch is found in the garden, and she recognises it as Simonetta’s…
Fosca has always suspected that another member of the resistenza betrayed her. With Richard by her side, she must find out if Simonetta is still alive, and clear her own name. But how did the brooch end up at the house? And with a traitor hiding in the village, willing to do anything to keep this secret buried, has Fosca put herself and her young son in terrible danger?
There are so many books set in Italy during this period but Angela Petch always seems to dig a bit deeper and come up with something a bit different.
I found it so interesting to read about Richard’s experience. He’s a poet and pacifist who wants to prove he’s no coward. So, he joins the Friends Ambulance Service (FAU), an organisation that provides opportunities for conscientious objectors to take part in active service without compromising their principles. Through his eyes we see how saving rather than taking lives was no soft option. But his beliefs are tested when he finds himself in a situation where he can’t not intervene.
When invited back to Corbello in 1947 for a ceremony to thank those who had worked for the town during the war, he decides the trip might be just what he needs: “something to exorcise the ghosts that haunted his days and nights.”
While there, he discovers a ramshackle, hornet-infested tobacco tower and decides to stay on and restore it to live in. What’s wrong with having a dream? Dreams are after all what sustained him through his wartime experiences.
This restoration project can be seen as a metaphor for rebuilding his life, but a complication soon arises – while digging a vegetable garden he finds a woman’s body.
The other main characters Simonetta and Fosca show us what it was like to work for the partisans and how essential women were to the resistance movement in Italy, so this also made fascinating reading. As the anonymous quote at the start of the book says: Without women, resistance would have failed.
The Tuscan House is a beautifully written, intrigue-filled drama that I’d highly recommend to anyone who loves Italy, wartime dramas or both.
It’s published by Bookouture and available here.