It's always a joy to find a "new" writer and learn that they have already published multiple books of interest. That's especially true for me when the books are set in Italy, my favorite country abroad, and in other atmospheric and appealing locations.
Return to Valetto revolves around history professor Hugh Fisher, a widower with a grown daughter. His Anglo-Italian family, the Serafinos, are some of the last residents of Valetto, a dying village in Umbria. His grandmother, a centenarian, and his three elderly aunts reside in a large villa there with a small cottage on the property that he inherited on the death of his mother, who was the youngest sister.
There's a problem, however: a woman, Elisa, is "squatting" in the cottage, which she maintains was bequeathed to her family by Aldo, Hugh's grandfather, who left his family during World War II as a partisan fighting the Nazis in Italy's north and never returned. Elisa's mother was hidden as a child at the villa during the war, and later returned to her own village where Aldo, wounded in the war, was cared for by her family. In gratitude, he wrote a letter that explained his wishes, but the Serafinos doubt its authenticity.
When Hugh comes to Valetto for a visit, he is thrust into the middle of this conflict, and over the course of its resolution, uncovers the secrets of his family and the village, and its affect upon both over the decades since the war.
The book is richly atmospheric, and engaging with vivid descriptions of the setting, the characters, and their stories, yet is deceptively subtle as it pulls the reader deep into their hearts and minds.
I'll be looking for more novels by Dominic Smith on my next library visit. For readers looking for a comparative author, his style reminds me a bit of the work of Mark Helprin, another favorite writer whose historical novels include one set in Italy (A Soldier of the Great War), or of the rich atmospheric detail of Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Ginni.