The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia

Knopf. Jul. 2024. 416p. ISBN 9780593536179. $29. F
In her second novel (after The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna) Grames creates an elaborate puzzle of mystery, crime, and romance that will resonate with readers. Francesca Loftfield is an American working for a charity that installs nursery schools in isolated villages around the world, with the goal of lowering child mortality. She is sent to Santa Chionia in remote Calabria in 1960. After a flood destroys the local post office, a skeleton is discovered hidden beneath it, and two women ask for Francesca’s assistance, each believing that the skeleton is a missing loved one. In her attempts to help, Francesca clumsily makes enemies of the entire village through various missteps and social faux pas, like prying into people’s personal lives and accusing them of criminal activity. She also experiences culture shock in finding that the Chionoti do not share her American ideals and might not welcome her charitable pursuits. Grames creates a strong sense of place using local dialects and picturesque descriptions of Aspromonte traditions. Fans of Stella Fortuna will be gratified by the familiar setting and frank style of writing.
VERDICT Recommended for mystery and historical fiction readers who are interested in the cultural complexities and hardships of life off the map.
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