In 1955, Serafina is the only female investigator in Florences homicide unit. Despite her work with the partisans in 1943 and 1944, her colleagues still treat her with condescension. But it is the psychological and physical affects of the war on her that give her insights into why a series of gruesome murders are being perpetrated on the remaining members of a family of noble lineage.
Bohjalian allows his characters to traveling back and forth in time between 1944 and 1955, recounting the lives of the Rosati family who during the war were living in a small villa in the Tuscan countryside. Then, Sicily is invaded, Naples eventually falls, and the Nazis are in retreat into the countryside above Florence. Christina, the youngest Rosati child, and Serafina were both teenagers during this time of Italys wartime devastation; their differing, sometimes interwoven experiences, in both 1944 and 55, form key elements of the plot.
Woven into the story is the German devastation of the Tuscan cities of Arrezo and Florence, and Nazi interest in locating and then looting Italian artifacts. Above all, the novel highlights the tragedies surrounding Italys aristocracy and peasant class in World War II, and the feelings that continue to play out for the decade after the wars end.
Among Bohjalians acknowledgment is his use of the memoir of the Marchesa Iris Origo. Her War In Val dOrcia is one of the most remarkable first hand accounts of this period.