Nan's Reviews > Alibi

Alibi by Joseph Kanon
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's review
Jun 28, 12

Read in June, 2012

I just discovered Joseph Kanon's new book, Istanbul Passage, so now I'm reading his earlier books as well. Alibi did not disappoint. I adore books where the suspense comes from the moral dilemma of the protagonist, so I figured this would be up my alley. Or canal, as it's set in post-WW II Venice. But in Kanon's work there's never just one dilemma to worry about--every character has a secret.
American Adam Miller has just left the army after being an investigator of war criminals in Germany. His widowed mother has settled in Venice, where she'd once lived, and he goes to stay with her until he figures out what's next. Unlike most of Europe, Venice appears unchanged by the war's horrors. On the surface. By the time Adam meets his mother's new fiancee Gianni, and the pretty Italian Jewish Claudia fresh from a concentration camp, he realizes everyone in Venice has been affected by the war in some way. With the best of intentions (to protect his mother from a fortune-hunter, and show Claudia that love and life can still be hers), he gets caught in currents much murkier than anything he's read in a German case file. Soon he's up to his eyebrows in a murder investigation, and alibis, and not knowing who to believe--and realizing he himself is not to be trusted. About one-third through there came a scene that made me yell out in surprise. I had to put the book down and to absorb it before I could keep reading. And even then the revelations come so quickly yet unexpectedly, and subtly--the dialogue is a model of tight precision--that I had to use a blank piece of paper to read line by line, so my eye wouldn't be tempted to skip ahead before my brain caught up.
I was dazzled, though by the end, tired. Maybe one or two shocks too many. Or perhaps my complexity meter isn't used to being stretched by such elegant, layered plotting. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is, I really, really wanted a character--just one!--to believe in and root for. But such is the murky moral climate here that no one emerges without stain, or complicity in some very bad acts. For these people, the war will never be over.

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