I received this book for review consideration from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers. All opinions are my own.The Girl from Venice
Written by Martin Cruz Smith
Published by Simon & Schuster on October 18th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Thrillers
Source: publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers
The highly anticipated new standalone novel from Martin Cruz Smith, whom The Washington Post has declared “that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction,” The Girl from Venice is a suspenseful World War II love story set against the beauty, mystery, and danger of occupied Venice.
Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble.
Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon.
The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story.
I confess that I haven’t read anything by Martin Cruz Smith since the mid-1980s, when I gulped down his Soviet-era espionage thriller Gorky Park, His latest novel, The Girl From Venice, is in a different vein: it’s a World War II suspense tale with a strong romantic streak. When I received a review copy, I wasn’t sure I’d consider it at first. However, I have been gravitating toward fiction set in Italy as we plan our trip there next spring, and Venice is on our itinerary. That was the selling point.
THE GIRL FROM VENICE: Book Thoughts
A version of this book review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (November 4, 2016). Shelf Awareness provided a review copy and compensated me for the review they received.
The Girl from Venice was floating lifelessly in a lagoon when fisherman Innocenzo Vianello found her. Shortly after he brought her aboard his boat, he discovered that German soldiers were looking for her…and that, to his surprise and despite all appearances, she was quite far from lifeless. That would likely change quickly if the Germans caught her, especially now that she’s killed one of them. With that, Martin Cruz Smith ) gets this novel of occupied Italy in the waning days of World War II off to a strong start.
Cenzo hides the girl, Giulia, in his fishing shack and helps her with a plan to escape her pursuers. Back at home, he’s trying to escape his mother’s plans to marry him off to his younger brother’s widow when the war is over. But even after he gets Giulia out of Venice, he can’t get her off his mind. That’s partly because too many people–Germans, Fascists, Partisans, and his older brother Giorgio, the famous actor (and war collaborator)–are still after her. And even though Cenzo doesn’t know exactly where she’s gone, they all believe he’s the key to finding her. But that’s not the whole reason Cenzo sets out to find her before they do.
Cenzo really has no idea what he’s getting himself into, and his confusion is occasionally mirrored by plot convolutions. However, snappy dialogue and a brisk pace keep readers engaged as the tension builds, and Cenzo emerges as an appealing, unlikely hero. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and thrillers will likely appreciate how Smith combines them in The Girl From Venice.
Without a moon, small islands disappeared and Venice sank into the dark. Stars, however, were so brilliant that Cenzo felt drawn to them, even as mud oozed between his toes. The faint report of church bells carried over the lagoon, from farms drifted the smell of manure, and once or twice he caught the tremolo of a German gunboat plowing the water.
A curfew barred all nighttime activity, no exceptions except for fishermen. Fishermen were nocturnal creatures who slept by day and fished by night. They stayed out on the lagoon for days at a time and when they came ashore they smelled so much of fish that cats followed them through the streets.
…From the market Cenzo planned to sail home. For a week he had not bathed in freshwater or eaten more than grilled fish and polenta cakes. He pushed the boat off the grass to drop in the rudder when something sizable rose to the surface. Cenzo held his lamp over the water as the body of a girl took shape.
A chill ran through Cenzo. He expected any second that the girl would become a hallucination. Fishermen saw all sorts of things at sea and eyes played tricks at night. At a touch she might separate into the white belly of a ray and the blank face of an octopus. But no, she stayed intact.