cover image The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia

The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia

Juliet Grames. Knopf, $29 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-53617-9

Grames (The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna) shines in this intriguing story of buried secrets in an isolated Southern Italian village. Narrator Francesca Loftfield, a 20-something American woman, arrives in the early 1960s as a charity worker. She wryly calls herself a “bluestocking with big dreams for building a better world, one needy child at a time,” and has come to Santa Chionia to establish a nursery school that would help reduce the high child mortality rates by providing nutritious meals for its pupils and educating their families about hygiene. Soon after her arrival, a flood unearths human remains from underneath the town’s post office. The skeleton was not recently buried, and most of the locals seem indifferent to the grim find. Francesca’s curiosity is stoked, though, when she’s approached by Emilia Volonta, the priest’s housekeeper, who suspects that the bones belonged to her son, Leo, who went missing after he supposedly emigrated to the U.S. as a teen, 40 years earlier. Francesca agrees to Emilia’s simple request—to determine if the town’s records include a visa for Leo. Her inquiry proves only the beginning of the matter, however. From the prologue, readers already know that Francesca will find evidence of “cold-blooded murder,” and the suspense is heightened when a second woman asks Francesca to ascertain if the remains belong instead to her missing husband. Grames excels at rendering the experiences of living as a stranger in a close-knit community, where justice is meted out extrajudicially, and she manages to keep the reader guessing as to the truth about who was murdered and why. This is a superior literary mystery. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Co. (July)