October 1922—On a warm day in Milan, Italy, the life of 19-year-old Isabella Berotti changes forever. One moment she is gliding through the busy marketplace on the arm of her handsome husband, their unborn child nestled safely in her womb. The next, Luigi lies dead in the street, blood streaming from a bullet wound in his chest. A second shot rings out, felling Isabella, who barely survives the injury. The bambino inside her is not so lucky.
Ten years later, Isabella is still haunted by the violent death of her husband. As a Blackshirt—one of Mussolini's elite soldiers—Luigi was in a dangerous line of work. Still, why him? Why her? Their shooter has never been brought to justice and the police claim to know nothing. Isabella doesn't believe them. Someone knows something, she's sure of it. But, questioning authority in Fascist Italy is never a good idea, so Isabella distracts herself with work. As an architect in the most prestigious firm in Bellina, one of Mussolini's new cities, she has the privilege of designing beautiful new buildings and homes. Her work is the center of her life, the only thing that keeps her moving forward.
Little does Isabella know that her life is about to change in an instant once again. When a strange woman approaches Isabella, begging the architect to watch her young daughter, she doesn't have time to react, let alone refuse. Moments later, she's horrified when the mother throws herself off a clock tower, plummeting to her death. The woman hinted that she knew something of Luigi's death—now Isabella will never know what it was. Unless the child knows. Trying to simultaneously protect 9-year-old Rosa and extract information from her throws Isabella into the middle of a dangerous political battle. Surrounded by enemies, she doesn't know who to trust. With her neck and that of the girl who's reawakened her mother's heart on the line, Isabella doesn't know what to do, where to turn. Mussolini's goons lurk down every possible road and of one thing she's certain—they want her dead.
The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall is one of those novels that just gets everything right. In vivid, painstaking prose, the author builds a setting so rich, so authentic, it was as if I had truly stepped into Fascist Italy (and wanted to step right out, thank you very much). Because their tension, their fear, their desperation, and their anger felt so palpable, I had no trouble at all empathizing with the characters. I rooted for them without hesitation. Character-driven though it may be, The Italian Wife doesn't skimp on plot. There's plenty of pulse-pounding action, nail-biting suspense, and life-or-death twists to keep a reader glued to her seat. Although the book clocks in at 411 pages, I never got bored with it. It kept me riveted to the very end. There's so much to love about this one that I honestly can't come up with any complaints (be amazed, be very amazed). If you like tense historical thrillers, this is the book for you.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of several WWII novels, including The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff, and Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (one F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Italian Wife from the generous folks at Penguin Random House. Thank you!