Although it is set in and around the beautiful canals of post-World War Two Venice, Joseph Kanon’s latest novel Alibi is nevertheless a dark and gritty tale. It shares with Venice a sense of mystery and history; a sense that you are never really seeing everything. This mysterious and tense style, combined with a suspenseful and twisting plot, makes for an intriguing and enjoyable read.
Post-war Venice wants nothing more than to put the past behind it and focus on a brighter future. But history is always there, threatening to resurface and cast a pall over the future. The story centers around Adam Miller, a former US Army war crimes investigator visiting his widowed mother who has retired to Venice. Adam is also trying to put the ugliness he has seen behind him. But although Venice is as beautiful as ever – having been sparred the bombing unlike so much of Europe – he isn’t quite comfortable or sure of his new post-army life.
Enter Claudia, a native Venetian, but also a Jew who suffered horribly during the war. Despite their differences, Adam and Claudia begin a passionate relationship. At first the relationship is centered on the physical; passionate assignations in hotels and secret meetings. But Adam is soon clearly in love with this enigmatic women.
Things begin to get complicated, however, when Adam realizes that his mother is serious about her new boyfriend Gianni Maglione. Maglione is from one of the old families of Venice, and was a friend of the family before Adam’s father died, but Adam is suspicious and untrusting of his mother’s suitor. When Claudia and Maglione have an ugly encounter at a party, Adam is convinced there is a darker side to Gianni’s story and will do anything to uncover the truth.
This search for the truth sets in motion a series of plot twists and escalating tension. Adam insists on pushing forward even as events tumble out of control and the truth becomes harder to decipher. Soon he is at the center of complicated web of murder, deception, and intrigue. Adam, always the one with what he thought was righteous anger, also finds the moral questions changing from black and white to a muddy gray. It becomes hard to tell who is the hunter and who is the hunted.
I won’t give away any of the plot twists because they are an important element of the pleasure of reading a book like this. But Kanon has created an evocative and intriguing story. Part historical drama, part murder mystery, part spy thriller Alibi is a tense and gritty story set in an exotic time and place. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys suspense, tension, and intrigue with a little history and romance mixed in.