Cenzo Vianello has been sitting out the war, fishing his family’s waters in the lagoons off of Venice and avoiding Germans, Italian fascists, partisans, and the war on the mainland. He served in Mussolini’s Abyssinian War and that was enough for him. He might have managed to get through the entire Second World War without getting involved if he hadn’t found Giulia in the lagoon one night. After that night, Cenzo abruptly finds himself right in the middle of everything. Though Martin Cruz Smith called this novel The Girl from Venice, Giulia is only a catalyst for Cenzo to become the hero he refused to be.
The Girl from Venice is very different from Smith’s novels featuring Arkady Renko, the melancholy Russian policeman. This novel is much lighter (even though it’s set during the last days of World War II) and there’s not as much psychological development. Instead, it’s a thriller almost from the get-go, leavened by snappy banter.
The night Cenzo find Giulia, he is almost immediately detained by a German gunboat that’s been lurking around the marshes and lagoons outside of Venice. They’re looking for Giulia, the daughter of rich and connected Jews who had almost managed to escape. Instead, Giulia was the only one to get away. It’s touch and go for most of the night until Cenzo managed to get rid of the Germans. He takes her back to his fishing shack, for lack of any other ideas.
Even though Giulia is educated and a bit snobbish and Cenzo is deeply cynical, they click. I loved reading their dialogue as they alternately sniped at each other and bonded over fishing lore. It was a wrench when Cenzo sends her away with a friend with partisan connections so that she can finish her escape. Still, he believed it was the right thing to do—at least until his brother and a friendly German tell him the friend was killed and Giulia has gone missing in Salò, one of the Italian fascists’ last holdouts.
The rest of the book is chaotic. Cenzo is not a natural detective. His efforts to find Giulia are not so much laughable and just hopeless. Even if he weren’t trying to find one Jewish woman in the middle of a war, Cenzo quickly learns that his brother and the German had their own reasons for bringing him to the mainland. He lands right in the middle of a welter of conspiracies and plots.
The Girl from Venice is an entertaining read (mostly because of the banter), even if it doesn’t have quite the depth and pathos of the Arkady Renko series. I had an excellent time reading it.
I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 18 October 2016.