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Alibi: A Novel Paperback – May 16 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
It's late 1945 at the start of this atmospheric historical thriller, and G.I. Adam Miller, officially assigned to ferret out Nazi war criminals in Germany, joins his widowed mother, Grace, who has recently arrived in Venice from New York to resume her life as a wealthy American expatriate. Together, they flow into the social eddies of the upper class, determined to pick up where they left off in 1939. Grace has met an old flame, Gianni Maglione, a distinguished doctor whom Adam suspects of gold-digging. Meanwhile, Adam himself meets Jewish Claudia Grassini, who survived the Nazi pogroms by becoming the mistress of a powerful Italian Fascist. The novel's languid pace picks up when Claudia meets Maglione, whom she accuses not only of being a Nazi collaborator but also of having condemned her own father to Auschwitz. Further complications arise with the appearance of Rosa, an Italian operative and former partisan. Kanon (The Good German, etc.) keeps his complex plot—involving murder, elaborate alibis, false accusations and a web of secrets spinning back to the war—on track, although the various entanglements aren't always neatly unraveled. Adam and Claudia's love affair provides the requisite romance, but there's no sense that they find much to like in one another. More interesting is Kanon's portrait of a pathetic and hopelessly naïve group of wealthy people out of touch with the postwar world's reality. Agent, Amanda Urban. Author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In The Good German (2001), Kanon superbly evoked the post-apocalyptic, pockmarked moonscape of 1946 Germany. Now he turns to postwar Venice, where there are no pockmarks but the survivors are equally shell-shocked by the nearness of evil. Adam Miller, fresh from a stint as a war crimes investigator in Frankfurt, arrives in Vienna to visit his globe-trotting mother, who is holding tenuously to the remains of her fortune and embarking on an autumnal romance with a Venetian doctor whose wartime associations with the Nazis remain troubling if obscure. Miller begins a tumultuous romance with a Jewish woman whose own wartime experience has left her with deep psychic wounds. Soon enough the past can no longer remain hidden as a stunning murder leaves Adam torn between righting wrongs and protecting those he loves and himself. In a world where alibis are the currency of the era--everyone was "somewhere else when the air-raid sirens covered the sounds of people being dragged off"--Adam attempts to tread lightly through a landscape loaded with moral land mines. As before, Kanon juxtaposes a powerful love story and a gripping thriller against a palpable historical moment, but this time his hero can't quite shoulder the burden, his naive American assumptions about right and wrong leaving him ill-equipped to respond and never quite able to garner our full sympathy. And, yet, the novel holds us completely, with its vision of a sadly inadequate hero striking deep at our worst fears about ourselves. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Adam Miller is weary of his work. As a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in post war Germany, he's systematically separated the truly evil Nazis from citizens who merely closed their eyes to fanaticism gone beyond their control. When his tour of duty ends in 1946, Adam visits his widowed mother in Venice. She has returned to familiar surroundings in hopes of being happy again. Venice initially appears to be untouched by the war, but destruction takes many forms. Bombed out buildings are not always the worst aftermath of war.
At first, Adam is at loose ends. Memories of death camps leave him sleepless and disoriented. He wanders the canals and alleyways in hopes the city's beauty will provide solace or at least energize his spirit. His mother is engaged to Dr. Gianni Maglione, a betrothal he suspects is for her money. Old family friend Bertie Howard practices a forced gaiety, which Adam finds improbable. A wintry Venice with its cold rains and creeping fogs depresses Adam, until he meets Claudia Grassini. Making love in secret, seedy hideaways brings delight at first, a fleeting comfort as awful truths unravel. Wherever Adam turns, nothing is as it appears to be.
People do things to survive they wouldn't consider under normal circumstances. They bend, ignore, pretend. And no one has perfected the art of surviving better than those who live in Venice. Adam suspects Dr. Maglione may be more than a fortune hunter. He may be a Nazi sympathizer, or worse. And Claudia has her own secrets to protect. One unexpected act of violence smothers passion until remaining lovers becomes nothing more than an airtight alibi for Claudia and Adam.
Kanon's writing style is personable and seductive. His characters are real and human, fully developed. Venice becomes a living entity and the winter weather a chilling accomplice to tragedy because Joseph Kanon is a skillful wordsmith. Established fans will enthusiastically embrace Alibi. Readers not familiar with Kanon's work should be converted rapidly to devotees.
As Kanon himself is apt to explain, there was a gray area that existed for a lot of Europeans in WWII. Many were forced into situations they didn't want to be in. Many played the odds and joined sides they thought would ensure their survivial. And some found themselves with a new freedom to unleash darker sides they'd been hiding, hoping in the end they'd be vindicated. No matter the case, the mystery here is but a question: during the nazi occupation of Venice, who was really at fault for helping the Germans? The answer is really up to the reader to conclude.
This is certainly the darkest of all his books. I wasn't even sure if I should be routing for the protagonist, as he is both likeable and infuriating. Of course, Kanon does this on purpose, puttting us, the reader, in the position of those Italians who sided with the Germans for whatever reason they did--we're siding with Adam because we have to, because he's the story, our own private Venice, but we're not sure we really like him or understand him. He's a good guy, with good intentions, but he's also a bad guy, acting before he thinks. He's a gray area.
The book does contain a somewhat convoluted type of story telling where the protagonist forces the plot to take turns based on lies that we, the reader, know to be false. In this respect, it can be a little harder to read than his previous works. And there are moments when the police inspector seems to be asking the wrong questions. And the dialogue, though fantastically real, can be a touch homogenized with so many staccato Italian accents. But these are mostly forgiven as we progress through a web of lies that grow thicker on every page.
The book ends with a wholly satisfactory conclusion (and a tense chase) that stuns the reader.
I highly recommend this book to anyone wishing to explore what people went through during the war. But it might be best to read any one of his other books first, as they are more conventional and easier to get through. At the end of the day this is his most ambitious book, and I believe it hits the mark--just not in the traditional way. But yes, it's a great read.
Into this milieu comes Grace Miller, an American widow, and her son Adam, just released from the US Army as part of a de-Nazification team in Frankfurt. Grace is about to marry Gianni Maglione, a Venetian doctor, and Adam wonders about Gianni's past. Soon Adam meets Claudia Grassini, a young Jewish woman who survived internment in Fossoli, and they begin a passionate affair. When Claudia is introduced to Gianni at a party, however, she recognizes him immediately, telling Adam that Gianni betrayed her very sick father to security forces rounding up Jews.
Using his past army connections to get further information about Gianni, Adam investigates, but violence soon changes the focus of his energies, and the nightmare involving Adam, his family, and Claudia intensifies. Adam's extreme introspection as he helps the police investigate broadens the scope and focuses attention on important themes of crime and justice, and Claudia's vulnerability as a result of the Holocaust gives added poignancy to her similar self-examinations.
With a setting so vivid that one cannot imagine the story taking place anywhere else, the reader sees Venice shining, but beneath the surface it is a decaying city, literally sinking under its own weight. War crimes, hate crimes, crimes of passion, crimes committed for altruistic reasons, and crimes committed in self-defense all play a part in the plot. Kanon also raises questions about the punishments, if any, associated with these crimes. Are some crimes less "serious," or even justifiable, if they balance the scale of justice? Is the murder of a criminal excusable? Does justice depend on who wins? Ultimately, a chase scene through the canals of Venice, leads to a stunning conclusion, filled with twists, though whether justice is truly served remains an open question. Mary Whipple
Not a bad book - I give it a 3 - just not a very good one either.
"Alibi" is not a conventional whodunit since the reader knows who the killer(s) is. What it's supposed to do is provoke thought along the lines of: Is a murder of revenge a justifiable crime? Are crimes committed during wartime any less heinous due to the need to survive? Does cooperating with the enemy for self-preservation an inevitable choice? Where do we draw the line between murder and self-defense? These and other moral dilemmas are supposed to be the novel's focus. Unfortunately, these become buried in a sloppy plot and non-stop talking. As an historical thriller, it's very lean on the thrills and is probably the most "talkative" novel I've read. Every page is leaden with lengthy and drab dialogues--every single page (I'm not exaggerating) to the point that I really stopped caring long before it ended:
Adam: I'm sorry I'm late. Any news?
Grace: Nothing. Something terrible's happened.
Police: Signora, we don't know that.
Grace: Of course it has. What else could it be? What's awful is not to know.
Police: I've sent a man to Dr. Maglione's house. He will call if--
Grace: He comes home? He won't. Something's happened.
Adam: No word at the hospitals? Anywhere?
Police: No. So a great mystery. But, let us hope, with a simple explanation. The best thing now would be to sleep.
Now, imagine that level of dialogue for 400+ pages. It reads like a script for some amateur theater production for a high school audience. Claudia's "lines," being she's Italian and marginally fluent in English, are treated worse. All throughout. She is. Speaking in. Staccato.
I'm not fond of romance, but can appreciate it if done well. Adam and Claudia are supposed to be madly in love. Yet nowhere in this novel did I read anything that would convince me of such. Their relationship is devoid of the passion one would expect from two young people crazy about each other. And no, jumping into bed at the first opportunity doesn't count. Also, for a Nazi hunter, Adam comes across as a wimp. I'm not expecting some superhero, but at least someone dynamic. If I were a former SS informant, at the very least, I should be a tad nervous being around this guy. As he is, even an expat senior citizen regards him as rather foolhardy. The plot becomes confusing to the point where one no longer knows who's doing what to whom--are the Fascists still after the communists; are the communists after the partisans; are the polizia pro-Fascist, pro-partisan or both; who was really snitching to the Nazis? The only thing definite is that the expats don't care. They're too busy partying.
It's tempting to compare this with other mysteries/thrillers set in Venice. Donna Leon's Brunetti series, for example, is so very engaging and entertaining with its interesting and colorful stock characters and witty dialogues. Andrew Wilson's "The Lying Tongue" is compelling and a bona fide thriller. If you're after some good mysteries with Venice as the backdrop, these would be better choices. "Alibi," on the other hand, was a great idea marred by banal dialogues and uninteresting characters.