Reviewed by Richard Goldman
Hardcover October 2016
Most readers, myself included, would associate a Martin Cruz Smith book with cold Russian winters, fur coats and communists. He rose to fame with a series of novels featuring Arkady Renko, an investigator who survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and was last seen in 2013 in Tatiana.
The Girl from Venice moves sharply in time and place to the city of the title during the later stages of WW II in 1945. One starlit night Cenzo, a simple fisherman comes across the body of young girl in the Venice Lagoon. After pulling her into the boat, and hiding her body from a German patrol, he's surprised to discover that she is still alive and on the run from the SS. Her name is Giulia, she's Jewish and the Nazis killed her parents along with a number of other jews who had been hiding out in a disused sanitarium.
We'll soon discover that Cenzo is not exactly a simple fisherman but rather a pilot who fought in Italy's campaign in Africa and that his brother, Gino, is a fascist military hero turned dashing film star. This is, however, the waning days of the war: Mussolini is restricted to a rump government in the town of Salo in Norhtern Italy, the Germans are in charge and everyone has started thinking about life after the war.
Against his better judgment Cenzo is drawn to helping Giulia hide from the Germans and eventually to escape. At the same time he's increasingly drawn to her in a romantic way as the dangers of helping her continue to escalate.
Smith has put together a terrific tale with equal doses of history, romance and thriller. The focus on the final months of the war brings up some little known history which I found fascinating. I'm betting you will too.