The Night Falling

Written by Katherine Webb
Review by Marina Maxwell

It is a hot summer in Puglia, early 1920s. Socialist and war veteran Ettore labours in the fields helping to support his sister Paola and her child, but after an accident with a scythe he must swallow his pride and fall back on his rich uncle, Leandro Cardetta, for assistance. Leandro has recently returned to his homeland after a successful career in New York. Clare Kingsley, together with her teenage stepson Pip, is summoned from Hampstead to stay on Leandro’s estate while her husband Boyd, a British architect, designs a new façade to the house. Leandro’s American wife, Marcie, appears thrilled to have the company of Pip and Clare.

The countryside simmers with hidden tensions and open hostility, including the rise of the sinister black-shirts. Clare and Pip both witness violent and harrowing scenes, and Clare grows increasingly uneasy. Boyd has secrets in his past from his time in New York and some prior link to Leandro that he refuses to share with her. Complicating her concerns is that she is being irrevocably drawn into a relationship with the lean, enigmatic Ettore even as he still grieves his lost love, Livia.

Why does Leandro stop Clare and Pip from returning home when things turn dangerous? Will Ettore track down the man responsible for Livia’s death? All these questions and more swirl throughout the novel, and Clare’s sense of “violence all around, the possible and the actual… like an electric charge in the air; the hum before a lightning strike” is palpable throughout.

It takes a little while to get accustomed to the novel’s style, but once you do, you will become thoroughly immersed in its characters and setting, and the closing sequence is a stunner. This is mesmerising and compulsive reading, and most highly recommended.