A review of “The Girl From Venice” by Martin Cruz Smith

This is the third novel that I have read by prolific American author MCS, folowing “Gorky Park” and “Havana Bay”. I guess that the title has been chosen to encourage sales because the feminine noun seems to everywhere. The trend was probably started by the spectatular success of the English-language translations of the three Millennium novels of Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson starting with “THe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” but, in the last few years, I’ve read “Girl With A Pearl Earring” (Tracy Chevalier), “Gone Girl” (Gillian Flynn), “The Girl On The Train” (Paula Hawkins) and “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” (Simon Mawer).

In the case of the Smith novel, the title is a bit of a come-on because the central character is actually an uneducated fisherman called Cenzo rather than the sophisticated Jewish teenager Guila and indeed, in the middle third of this 300-page work, the girl is totally missing from the narrative. Even the use of Venice in the title is a bit of a misnomer since a good deal of the action is not in Venice and, when it is, the locale is not the parts of the city familiar to tourists but the little-known lagoon island of Pellestrina.

What makes the novel distinctive and interesting though is the setting in the last weeks of the Second World War, the location of much of the story in Salo (the rump state ostensibly led by Mussolini from late 1943 to early 1945), and the detail about fish and fishing. Although Cruz is essentially a mystery novelist, this latest work by him can be taken as a romance between an unlikely couple. Cenzo muses: ‘Yet only one woman would do. And not just any one, but the most obstinate, impossible woman he had ever met.”


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