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3.2 15
by Joseph Kanon

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Winner of the Hammett Prize

It is 1946, and Adam Miller has come to Venice to visit his widowed mother and try to forget the horrors he has witnessed as a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in Germany. But when he falls in love with Claudia, a Jewish woman scarred by her devastating experiences during World War II, he is forced to confront another Venice, a


Winner of the Hammett Prize

It is 1946, and Adam Miller has come to Venice to visit his widowed mother and try to forget the horrors he has witnessed as a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in Germany. But when he falls in love with Claudia, a Jewish woman scarred by her devastating experiences during World War II, he is forced to confront another Venice, a city still at war with itself, haunted by atrocities it would rather forget. Everyone, including his mother's suave new Venetian suitor, has been compromised by the occupation, and Adam finds himself at the center of a web of deception, intrigue, and unexpected moral dilemmas. When is murder acceptable? What are the limits of guilt? How much is someone willing to pay for a perfect alibi?

Alibi is at once a murder mystery, a love story, and a superbly crafted novel about the nature of moral responsibility.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Burrowing deeply into Patricia Highsmith territory, Kanon has crafted an absorbing tale. . . . [Kanon] is frequently compared to the likes of John le Carré and Graham Greene. With Alibi, he shows that he's up to the comparison.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Kanon's richest, most full-blooded work to date . . . [He] has mastered the art of the historical thriller.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Disturbing and hypnotically readable, Alibi is a mystery, a love story, and a work of philosophy--and a perfect companion for the thriller reader who wants a philosophical challenge, as well as entertainment.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Joseph Kanon is a specialist in superior historical thrillers. . . . Moody, deeply atmospheric, and as labyrinthine as the streets of Venice.” —The Seattle Times

Alibi is a thriller with a slide-rule perfect plot. . . . Wholly engrossing and one of the finest thrillers you will read this year--up there with the classics of the genre.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)

“If you want to explore life, love, death, beauty, and moral confusion--all glimpsed from a gondola, so to speak--you won't do much better than this.” —The Washington Post

“Once again Kanon has written a novel set against the backdrop of World War II that is evocative and sensitive, moody and thought-provoking.” —Arizona Daily Star

Alibi is an absorbing and fast-paced book.” —New Mystery Reader Magazine

“Kanon keeps us turning pages. . . . His best book yet.” —The Winston-Salem Journal

“Kanon juxtaposes a powerful love story and a gripping thriller against a palpable historical moment. . . . The novel holds us completely, with its vision of a sadly inadequate hero striking deep at our worst fears about ourselves.” —Booklist

“You will admire this book for its descriptions of the theatrically beautiful Venetian cityscape and for its engrossing rendition of the city's postwar hangover-party mood--plus the inclusion of a cracking good murder mystery.” —The News & Observer

“Extraordinarily well-crafted and well-written . . . Kanon's storytelling talents for intrigue may be unparalleled.” —Deseret Morning News

“Kanon offers such vivid sensory detail that a reader emerges as steeped in atmospherics as a seasoned diplomat with a passport full of visa stamps. You feel initiated, as if you've been let in on some dark and well-kept secrets from some of the twentieth century's most pivotal moments. . . . In Kanon's eclectic cast of policemen, soldiers, revolutionaries, and ex-pat socialites, no one is spared the deep, dark smudges offered by war and its aftermath.” —Baltimore Sun

“If you want to explore life, love, death, beauty, and moral confusion, you won't do much better than this.” —San Jose Mercury News

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 naOve group of wealthy people out of touch with the postwar world's reality. Agent, Amanda Urban. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Adam hopes that in Venice he'll leave behind the horrors of World War II, but falling for the Jewish Claudia makes him confront the complicity of those around him. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Venice-just after WWII-full of charm and romance, secrets and lies. Adam Miller, newly discharged from the U.S. Army, joins his mother, newly arrived in Venice. She's taken a house on the Grand Canal. Both are at loose ends-Grace because it's in her nature to be that way, Adam because the war and its aftermath have unsettled him, left him emotionally wary. At a party, however, he meets lovely Claudia Grassini and plunges into a passionate affair with her. The attraction is mutual, but Claudia is a complex woman with a painful, embittering history. She's an Italian Jew the Fascists sent to their pet concentration camp at Fossoli, where she knows she should have died along with all the others. The fact that she didn't has burdened her with survivor guilt. Meanwhile, Grace has romance in her life, too. His name is Gianni Mangioni, a doctor, an aristocrat and an old flame. In the years between the wars, they were part of a circle of friends who romped together the way only the rich and privileged can. But Adam doesn't trust Gianni, senses something bogus about him, wonders what he was up to when the Germans were in Occupation. Until his discharge, Adam was an intelligence officer and war crimes investigator in Berlin, and he decides to make a project out of Gianni, a decision that opens Pandora's box with a vengeance: people die, lives are ruined and Adam finds himself confronting excruciating choices-not only the one between justice and legality, but the rarer, more subtle, harder one between justice and morality. Interesting characters, an affecting love story and a strong plot that unfortunately sags midway. But Kanon (The Good German, 2001, etc.) is a true talent: eventually, he mightwrite thrillers as impeccable as Graham Greene's. Author tour

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Read an Excerpt


By Joseph Kanon

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2005 Joseph Kanon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8050-7886-X

Chapter One

After the war, my mother took a house in Venice. She'd gone first to Paris, hoping to pick up the threads of her old life, but Paris had become grim, grumbling about shortages, even her friends worn and evasive. The city was still at war, this time with itself, and everything she'd come back for - the big flat on the Rue du Bac, the cafes, the market on the Raspail, memories all burnished after five years to a rich glow - now seemed pinched and sour, dingy under a permanent cover of gray cloud.

After two weeks she fled south. Venice at least would look the same, and it reminded her of my father, the early years when they idled away afternoons on the Lido and danced at night. In the photographs they were always tanned, sitting on beach chairs in front of striped changing huts, clowning with friends, everyone in caftans or bulky one-piece woolen bathing suits. Cole Porter had been there, writing patter songs, and since my mother was close to Linda, there were a lot of evenings drinking around the piano, that summer when they'd just married. When her train from Paris finally crossed over the lagoon, the sun was so bright on the water that for a few dazzling minutes it actually seemed to be that first summer. Bertie, another figure in the Lido pictures, met her at the station in a motorboat, and as they swung down the Grand Canal, the sun so bright, the palazzos as glorious as ever, the whole improbable city just the same after all these years, she thought she might be happy again.

A week later, with Bertie negotiating in Italian, she leased three floors of a house on the far side of Dorsoduro that once belonged to the Ventimiglia family and was still called Ca 'Venti. The current owner, whom she would later refer to, with no evidence, as the marchesa, took clothes, some silver-framed family photographs, and my mother's check and moved to the former servants' quarters on the top floor. The rest of the house was sparsely furnished, as if the marchesa had been selling it off piece by piece, but the piano nobile, all damask and chandeliers, had survived intact, and Bertie made a lend-lease of some modern furniture from his palazzo on the Grand Canal to fill a sitting room at the back. The great feature was the light, pouring in from windows that looked out past the Zattere to the Giudecca. There were maids, who came with the house without seeming to live there, a boat moored on the canal, and a dining room with a painted ceiling that Bertie said was scuola di Tiepolo but not Tiepolo himself. The expatriate community had begun to come back, opening shuttered houses and planning parties. Coffee and sugar were hard to get, but wine was cheap and the daily catch still glistened and flopped on the market tables of the pescaria. La Fenice was open. Mimi Mortimer had arrived from New York and was promising to give a ball. Above all, the city was still beautiful, every turn of a corner a painting, the water a soft pastel in the early evening, before the lamps came on. Then the music started at Florian's and the boats rocked gently at the edge of the piazzetta, and it all seemed timeless, lovely, as if the war had never happened.

I learned all this many weeks later in a telephone call she had somehow managed to put through by "going to the top." At this time the few trunk lines into Germany were reserved to the military, so I imagined that a general, some friend of a friend, had been charmed or browbeaten into lifting a few restrictions. The call, in any case, caused a lot of raised eyebrows in the old I.G. Farben building outside Frankfurt where I pushed files into one tray or another for USFET while I waited for my separation papers. I had been in Germany since the beginning of the year, first with G2, then attached to one of the de-Nazification teams separating the wicked from the merely acquiescent. Frankfurt was still a mess, the streets barely passable, filled with DPs and hollow-eyed children with edema bruises. The phone call, with its scratches and delays, seemed to come from another world, so far from the rubble and desperation just outside my window that its news seemed irrelevant. The marchesa was quiet; you hardly knew she was there ("darling, not even a flush"). My room had a wonderful view. Her pictures hadn't arrived from New York yet, but Bertie, a treasure and fluent, was looking into it. It was a call that began in what my father used to call her medias res - a plunge into the middle of whatever she was thinking, followed by exasperation when you didn't know what she was talking about. Finally I understood that she had moved to Venice intending to stay, which meant that my home would be there too. The point of the call, in fact, was to say she was expecting me for Christmas.

"I'm still in the army."

"Well, they give passes, don't they? I mean, it's not as if the war's still on. And I'm sure you could use the break. I've seen the newsreels - it looks just awful there."

"Yes." Camps full of corpses, wheeled out in farm carts to mass graves. Feral kids eating out of PX garbage cans. Women passing bricks hand over hand, digging out. Not what anyone had expected, pushing over the Rhine. GIs rich with a pack of Luckies. What happens after.

"Well, then," she said. "Won't it be wonderful? To have Christmas together? It's been years."

"In a Fascist country," I said, half teasing.

"It's not the same thing at all. They weren't Nazis. Anyway, all that's over. It's lovely here, just like before. I can't wait for you to see the house. Maybe it'll snow. They say it's enchanting in the snow."

Characteristically, she hung up without giving me her address, so it was to Bertie that I later wrote to say that I'd be spending Christmas in the hospital. After surviving actual combat and the tough early days of the occupation, what got me, embarrassingly, was a rusty nail, a careless step in the debris of a Frankfurt street that caused a puncture wound and required tetanus treatment and a holiday spent with amputees and boys with nervous tics. By the time I finally got to Venice it was February, I was out of the army, and the city was huddled against a damp, misty cold.

The piano nobile, as grand and formal as described, was freezing, kept dark but not draftless by long, heavy drapes. The sitting room, warmed by space heaters from Bertie, was comfortable, but the high Tiepolo dining room made meals so chilly and unpleasant that my mother had taken to eating in the kitchen or off a tray sitting next to the bars of her electric fire. Above us, the marchesa had become so silent that a maid was sent up to check, as if she might be one of those birds who grow still on a winter branch, then suddenly fall over. What would have changed everything was sun, cutting across the Adriatic to seep into all the tile roofs and parquet floors as it often did even in February, but the sky that winter was German, cloudy and gray. In the evenings, near our house, there was no light at all. A fog would come in from the sea, filling the Giudecca channel, streetlights were spaced far apart to save power, and the calles became dark medieval paths again, designed for people with torches.

I noticed none of this - or rather, it was all so like the gray I was used to that I accepted it as natural, the way things were. The gloomy afternoons were no different from the weather in my head, full of listless shadows, an urge to draw in. Does anyone really come back from the war? The lucky ones just keep going, on to the next fight, unaware that they're breathing different air. The rest of us have to be brought up in stages, like deep-sea divers, to prevent the bends. The boys in the hospital had come back too fast - their faces twitched, their eyes darted at every sound; prey. I slept. The fog that came in at night from the lagoon, would fill my head too, a lulling numbness, asking to be wrapped in blankets, left alone. Sometimes there were dreams - really ways of going back, reminders of the nightmare time that was supposed to be over - but mostly the sleep was just fog, opaque and shapeless.

"Just like Swann, couche de bonne heure," my mother would say, but idly, not really worried, for by this time Dr. Maglione had come back into her life, so she was spending evenings out, unaware that when she left me with a book I was already halfway up the stairs in my mind, curling up with the fog.

The result was that I was waking early, before first light. It wasn't insomnia - I slept deeply, snug under a warm duvet - but some automatic awareness that the light was about to change, the way plants are said to lift their heads toward the dawn. My bedroom window faced across the channel to the Redentore, and I would look out into the darkness waiting for its lines to start forming, as if Palladio himself were sketching them in again, until finally everything had definition, still murky but real. Then I would put on my heavy wool army coat and leave the house without making a sound, quieter even than the shy marchesa, and begin my walk.

Venice is often said to be a dream, but at that hour, when there is no one out, no sounds but your own steps, it is really so, no longer metaphor - whatever separates the actual paving stones from the alleys in your mind dissolves. The morning mist and the gothic shapes from childhood stories have something to do with this, the rocking slap of boats on the water, tugging at their mooring poles, but mostly it's the emptiness. The campos and largos are deserted, the buoy marker lights in the lagoon undisturbed by wakes, the noisy day, when the visitors fan out into the calles from the Piazzale Roma, still just a single echo. Things appear at that hour the way they do in sleep, gliding unconnected from one to the next, bolted garden door to shadowy church steps to shuttered shop window, no more substantial than fragments of mist.


Excerpted from Alibi by Joseph Kanon Copyright © 2005 by Joseph Kanon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joseph Kanon is the author of three previous novels, The Good German, Los Alamos, and The Prodigal Spy. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City.

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Alibi 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Muggsy More than 1 year ago
The Alibi, by Joseph Karon, is a morality play set in an historical mystery. The setting is Venice one year after World War II has ended. Like a Michael Dibdin mystery, Venice is corrupt, but with a working purpose. Tourists must be attracted back to a beautiful and safe city which is putting out the message they didn't really get involved in the war enough to worry about ex-nazis and fascists lurking around. Unfortunately, the main character, an ex-GI war criminal research analyst, doesn't get the message, and looks for collaborators around every corner. He settles on one who is engaged to his widowed mother, happily renting a very nice house in Venice, and the plot spins on from there. Murder is done, and Karon sets up the plot as a question of whether or not the killing is justifiable since it involves someone suspected of collaborating with the nazis. The reader is left juggling a combination of beautiful and historic Venice with the question of whether or not good people should be caught and punished for killng a suspected collaborator. Other innocents get caught up in the plot, some pay a terrible price while completely innocent, and everyone seems to know what is going on, but nobody wants to get at the truth. The tension is fierce. I could not put this book down and finished it about 3 o'clock in the morning. A great read to say the least, and Karon's best book by far.
A retired history teacher
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kanon brings Venice to life. I could nearly smell the canals, and hear the water lapping against the sides of the buildings. He is sensitive to the little subtlties in the relationships between people, and his characters are well drawn. But it takes him forever to say what he has to say. At one point I checked the number of pages in the book, thinking that a sharper editor would have tightened it up to half its length. This book would make a good movie, cast with lots of beautiful people, one of those European spy things where the viewer isn't quite sure what is happening, but is happy going along for the ride. 'Gondola ride, in this case'. This is a book that promises much and leaves the reader disappointed by the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the Alibi, I was dissapointed with the overall structure of the story and subsequent developments. I felt many parts of the book that focused on the human aspect were predictable and not realistic. As for the setting of the book, I think Kanon did a good job of describing post war Venice and many of the attitudes and feelings that lay just under the surface. Overall I felt that this particular story did not complement the writer's obvious skill when comparing with past books such as the Prodigal Spy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a weak follow-up to Kanon's 'The Good German.' Whereas the earlier book is filled with depth and narratives of significance, 'Alibi' is an overwrought pot-boiler with cliches instead of moral dilemnas and an unrealistic, far-fetched plot. Try again, Joe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Protagonist Adam Miller, a former U.S. investigator of war crimes, opens his story by saying 'After the war, my mother took a house in Venice.' That she did and, to a great degree, was able to carry on as if World War II had never interrupted her life. She resurrects her relationship with Dr. Maglione, and joins the whirl of wealthy expatriates who seem to believe it has always been carnival time in Venice. Miller comes to Venice to visit his mother, hoping to forget the atrocities that have become so familiar to him. For a while, it seems that Venice has remained untouched by war. It's as beautiful and mysterious as ever. He does suspect that Dr. Maglione is more attracted to his mother's checkbook than to her, but there is more to come. Often alone, Miller meets Claudia, a Jewish woman who has been deeply scarred by the war, not physically but psychologically. They fall in love. All is well until she meets the good doctor and accuses him of having collaborated with the Nazis. When a murder occurs Miller is forced to examine what he really believes is right and wrong, who is telling the truth and who is being deceptive. Venice is a particularly appealing backdrop for this part mystery, part love story, and all intriguing novel. Holter Graham provides a splendidly controlled, always articulate voice performance of this arresting portrait of postwar Venice. - Gail Cooke
harstan More than 1 year ago
By 1946 still horrified by what he has seen, former U.S. Army war crimes investigator Adam Miller travels to Venice to see his widowed mother Grace. To his surprise the city is like a beautiful oasis in war ravaged Europe unscathed by the horrors that Adam has seen especially in Germany. --- Adam meets Italian Jew Claudia Grassini at a party. They fall in love and begin an affair. However, Claudia spent time in the Fossoli concentration camp, leaving her feeling guilty that she lived while so many others died. While Adam courts Claudia, Grace is seeing a pre war lover aristocratic Dr. Gianni Mangion. Adam does not trust Gianni sensing something sinister perhaps involving the Fascist years. He begins investigating his mother¿s lover and soon murders occur ultimately leading to the good soldier Adam choosing between justice and the law with either selection further devastating his already weakened inner soul. --- ALIBI is a terrific historical tale that uses war crimes, a murder mystery, and a romance to tell the tale of Post WWII Venice. The story line is fast-paced and action packed never slowing down for a moment. However what makes this thriller so chilling and thrilling is the deep cast. Adam, Grace, Claudia, and Gianni, supported by the grand city and residents trying to heal, are fully developed characters that bring home the era. The audience receives a fantastic novel that showcases Joseph Kanon¿s skills.--- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author describes vivid pictures of the setting - Venice after WW II. He proceeds to paint descriptions of characters through dialogue. The murder takes place. That's it. However there are still 200 pages left!
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AtoZNY More than 1 year ago
This about sums up my feelings about Alibi---who cares! The characters are cardboard and this reader felt no connection with any of it. If you want to read about Venice, just pick up any of Donna Leon's Brunetti series---at least there, you care about what happens to the people involved in the story.