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The Girl from Venice

Martin Cruz Smith, 2016

After just reading Donna Leon's latest mystery set in the outer Venetian Lagoons, I was happy to get this book that tread the same ground/water.

This novel of love and suspense takes place in the last year of WWII in the part of Italy that was occupied by the Third Reich. Salo, the capital of this German Republic... Italian Socialist Republic (RSI)... was the puppet regime and a hotbed of intrigue and human ugliness.

The book is a good mix of religion, black markets, German soldiers, Italian Fascists, vying partisans, Swiss opportunists, brotherly enmity, propaganda movies and loads of fishing lore.

Cenzo Vianelli is the somewhat damaged cynical 'hero,' a fisherman who had served in the awful Fascist campaign in Ethiopia piloting a reconnaissance plane and is now back living/hiding in the village of his birth; he rescues Guilia Silber, an Italian Jew who is fleeing Venice from the Fascists, the German SS and the Americans. Cenzo finds Guilia, who is an excellent swimmer, in one of the outer lagoons as he is fishing.

The characters are witty and richly drawn with most enmeshed in overlapping interests and always, “who to trust?”

It's an easy read with lots of throw away information about Mussolini's mistress and wife; about international monied bed-fellows; about Argentina's consulate in Salo,'the bottom of the ambassadorial pit,' and his wife Maria, a forger of passports, art and Gaspario violins.

The author draws attention to the idiocy and lunacy and horror of war and to the cowardly narcissism of madmen like Hitler and Mussolini, but the book is mainly a story of the particular and challenging love affair of Innocenzo and Guilia. I enjoyed this book as I am very fond of the author, Martin Cruz Smith (also author of Gorky Park, Polar Star).

 

Reviewed by Jean Fraser