Alibi – Joseph Kanon


Alibi is set in Venice at the end of WW2. It’s about the crimes committed by Italians in collaboration with the Nazis after the downfall of Mussolini.

The novel is written in the first person. The narrator, Adam, is an American soldier who has completed a posting to the Nuremberg trials, and just arrived in Venice, where his mother is living. He has been involved in meting out justice to war criminals, and still has access to information held by the American forces in Germany.

Adam finds that his mother is engaged to be married to Gianni, a Venetian. Meanwhile Adam meets a young Jewish woman in Venice, who survived the camps by sleeping with one of the guards. Adam falls into a sexual relationship with her, and invites her to meet his mother. But the woman, Claudia, points the finger at Gianni, , claiming that it was him who turned her father over to the Nazi authorities during the war, and sent him to his death.

Adam begins to investigate. He is already suspicious of Gianni because of a combination of filial jealousy and fear over his inheritance. There is an element of racial stereotyping in Adam’s attitude. How can I put it? I suppose it’s the fear and distrust of the stranger that lies at the heart of most of us in some  way.

Adam uses his contacts in the American army to pursue a personal vendetta against Gianni. Gianni and Adam’s mother are desperate for him to accept their relationship,and there are several interesting scenes between the three of them, and where Adam confronts Gianni with the secrets he has discovered about him.

Kanon tells the story in a leisurely way and there is plenty of time for him to digress into descriptions of Venice in the off season. He describes the parties and the restaurants, as well as the expat community, and dwells on Adam’s relationship with Claudia. As others have done, the author uses Venice as a character in the story, and this is an attractive element of the book.

At first it seems the story will be about Gianni’s involvement with the Nazis, but there is a sudden and surprising event that causes a complete change of direction. I have to say I was not completely convinced by this.

We meet an Italian detective and a Communist resistance fighter in Alibi, and learn something about the compromises people have to make during war. There is the back story – what exactly did Gianni do? We learn more about this as different characters reveal to us what they know about him.

The novel does show us something about the history of Italy at the time, though if you want to find out about the conflict between the church and the communists you would do better to try The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi. It’s very funny. Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli is another detective story set in this time. It introduces a much wider cast of Italian characters and explores the same issues of policemen with compromised moral values.

Alibi was a pretty good detective story. I’m lukewarm because these sort of books aren’t really my cup of tea as us Brits say. I skipped loads of it and I don’t think I missed much by doing that., The story itself is well told, and always intriguing. There is enough suspense and some exploration of corruption in high places. But overall it did not really offer enough for me.


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