Is there such a thing as a “perfect alibi?” Joseph’s Kanon’s newest novel, Alibi, is a collection of the best ingredients of a mystery novel: first-rate location, devious villain, complex murder plot, and an intriguing cast of characters. Kanon masterfully integrates historical situations into his previous mystery novels, The Good German, Los Alamos and The Prodigal Spy.
It is 1946. Adam Miller has arrived in post-war Venice to visit his widowed mother. As a war crimes investigator in Germany, he has “pushed a lot of paper” during the war, but he has also been exposed to the horrors of World War II. Perhaps beautiful art-filled Venice will help him to forget the worst of the war. Venice has been little touched by the war because it was not bombed but only occupied by the Germans. The city almost becomes one of the characters; the novel is filled with luminous descriptions of various amazing Venetian locations which serve as a backdrop to the action of the novel: the Grand Canal, the Cathedral of San Marco, Harry’s Bar, the Gritti Hotel and La Fenice.
But life is not kind to Adam in Venice. His mother reveals that she intends to marry a former admirer, Gianni Maglione. Adam immediately suspects Gianni’s motivations. He believes that Gianni is marrying his mother for her money, despite the fact that Gianni is a doctor from a prominent family. Adam even begins to suspect that Gianni may have been collaborating with the Germans during the occupation. Rosa, one of Adam’s investigative colleagues, is a former Italian partisan. With her help, Adam probes Gianni’s wartime activities. Adam discovers a trail of deaths surrounding Gianni. Is he responsible?
At the same time, Adam has met the lovely and mysterious Claudia, a Jewish woman who works at the Academia. As they get to know each other, Claudia starts to reveal her devastating past. During the war, she lost her father in the German camps and blames Gianni Maglione for betraying him. She only survived the camps by becoming the mistress of the camp commander. When the commander dies in mysterious circumstances, she is suspected of his murder. How can she forget such a devastating past? How can she learn to love again?
When Adam accuses Gianni of being a German collaborator in his mother’s home on the evening before a huge party, violence erupts, and Gianni is killed by Claudia and Adam. Adam’s description of how he feels after the murder is startling, “I took a deep breath and for a second expected the fear again, the free fall in my stomach, but what I felt, dazed was the least of it. A matter of a minute to kill.” (p. 149) They dump the body in Venice’s lagoon and use the party at socialite Mimi’s villa as their “alibi.” After all, they will be seen by all of Venice’s elite at this party. How could they have killed Gianni at the same time?
Kanon’s novel is filled with quirky characters. Adam’s widowed mother is searching for a new life. Although she has accepted Gianni’s proposal of marriage, she admits to Adam that she does not love him. Mimi, who holds the fateful party on the night of the murder, is the quintessential American ex-patriot socialite who enjoys spending lavishly and entertaining her friends and acquaintances. Bertie is a rather enigmatic character who is critical to the plot. He has the best line in the entire novel: “It’s the ultimate mystery, isn’t it? People. Not who done it. Who they are.” (p. 243) Finally, the two lovers, Adam and Claudia, are united in love, a quest for justice – and murder.
Inevitably, their murder plot is discovered when another man is accused of murder. In a daring attempt to rescue the innocent accused man, Rosa enlists the help of Adam and Claudia in her scheme. The ending will shock even the most hardened mystery reader.