Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: July 7, 2016

The highly anticipated new standalone novel from Martin Cruz Smith, whom The Washington Post has declared “that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction,” The Girl from Venice is a suspenseful World War II love story set against the beauty, mystery, and danger of occupied Venice. Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble. Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon. The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story.

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The phrase “highly anticipated” should set off warning bells, but I ignored my misgivings and jumped at Martin Cruz Smith’s The Girl from Venice. I’m a WWII junkie and have absolutely no restraint when considering literature set against the conflict, but looking back, I wish I’d have listened to my gut and passed on the narrative.

Please excuse my assessment, but Smith’s character development felt remarkably thin. As a reader, I couldn’t connect to a single member of the cast which made it intensely difficult to care how their stories turned out. I appreciated the brisk pace of the story, but I felt the individuals themselves were clichéd and forgettable.

Factually there are a few interesting points peppered throughout the narrative, but creating an atmosphere and transporting his readers wasn’t Smith’s priority. The Girl from Venice is first and foremost a mystery and at the end of the day, I feel the piece best suited to fans of that genre. The novel happens to take place during WWII, but when push comes to shove, it lacks the depth and detail I associate with good historic fiction.

At the end of the day I can't say I was particularly impressed with The Girl from Venice and I don't think I'll be recommending it to others any time soon. If failed satisfy any of my expectations and left no impression whatsoever.

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He hadn’t studied her in the light before. She was imperious, with straight hair and a sharp chin. Cenzo thought that if he could see the world with her eyes, it would be a place where your death was on a list. The girl came with ghosts.
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