From 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 naïve group of wealthy people out of touch with the postwar world's reality. Agent, Amanda Urban. Author tour. (Apr.)
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In The Good German (2001), Kanon superbly evoked the post-apocalyptic, pockmarked moonscape of 1946 Germany. Now he turns to postwar Venice, where there are no pockmarks but the survivors are equally shell-shocked by the nearness of evil. Adam Miller, fresh from a stint as a war crimes investigator in Frankfurt, arrives in Vienna to visit his globe-trotting mother, who is holding tenuously to the remains of her fortune and embarking on an autumnal romance with a Venetian doctor whose wartime associations with the Nazis remain troubling if obscure. Miller begins a tumultuous romance with a Jewish woman whose own wartime experience has left her with deep psychic wounds. Soon enough the past can no longer remain hidden as a stunning murder leaves Adam torn between righting wrongs and protecting those he loves and himself. In a world where alibis are the currency of the era--everyone was "somewhere else when the air-raid sirens covered the sounds of people being dragged off"--Adam attempts to tread lightly through a landscape loaded with moral land mines. As before, Kanon juxtaposes a powerful love story and a gripping thriller against a palpable historical moment, but this time his hero can't quite shoulder the burden, his naive American assumptions about right and wrong leaving him ill-equipped to respond and never quite able to garner our full sympathy. And, yet, the novel holds us completely, with its vision of a sadly inadequate hero striking deep at our worst fears about ourselves. Bill Ott
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