The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith. (Historical Novel, 2016)
This one–the latest from another of my favorite authors–is set in northern Italy in 1945, where the last remnants of Mussolini’s Fascist regime and their equally doomed Nazi overlords are preparing for a suicidal last stand (or maybe a desperate escape).
Cenzo Vianello is a humble fisherman, from a small village across the lagoon from the fabled city of Venice. He wants nothing to do with war, having had his fill of its insane brutality during Italy’s earlier conquest of Abyssinia.
But while out fishing one night, he finds a young woman floating in the shallows, but not–as he first thinks–dead. Giulia is a cultured 18-year-old from one of the city’s most prominent and wealthy Jewish families. In fact, she’s the last survivor of that family and on the run from murderous Nazis. A reluctant Cenzo decides to risk sheltering her and schemes to arrange her escape.
The two have little in common, but a love that neither of them wants to admit to begins to develop. Guilia’s planned escape seems to go very wrong and Cenzo, determined to learn her fate, embarks on a journey to Il Duce’s last stronghold and a world of spies and counter-spies, traitors and patriots, forgers, ruthless soldiers and equally ruthless partisan guerrillas. Uncertain and shifting loyalties add up to an engrossing thriller.
And it all brings a vengeful Cenzo back into contact with his one surviving brother–the war hero turned movie idol who stole Cenzo’s wife away (and thereby got her killed in an air raid). Is Giorgio a mere self-satisfied playboy and pampered propaganda tool of the Fascists–or something more?
As always, Cruz Smith brings an exotic time and place to vivid and compelling life. It’s a complex story–a historical war drama, a mystery with surprising twists, and a desperate, ultimately fulfilling story of love and devotion in the face of the gravest peril.
Another fine effort–and highly recommended.