Books

A love story and war thriller expertly told

“The Girl From Venice” by Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster, 320 pages.

An Italian fisherman pulls a drowned girl into his boat only to have the body vanish when a Nazi patrol stops him for questioning. The not-so-dead-after-all girl resurfaces later and fisherman Cenzo hides her in his shack from an intensive search. He learns that Giulia was part of a group of Jews hiding in a hospital, the only one to escape when they were betrayed.

The quest to find out what happened to her family and bring the betrayer to justice takes Cenzo to Venice, where the final days of the war create a surreal atmosphere. Justice is closing in on Mussolini, the Germans are preparing for a last-ditch fight and Cenzo just wants to save one person.

It’s as much a love story as it is a war thriller, and Martin Cruz Smith, who has transported us to Moscow, Chernobyl and Cuba, transports us to wartime Vienna just as expertly.

“Inherit the Bones” by Emily Littlejohn. Minotaur, 336 pages.

This is a debut novel that reads like an established series. After finishing the book I was honestly surprised to read on the jacket blurb that this was my first time meeting Gemma Monroe of the Cedar Valley, Colo., police department.

A clown at a visiting circus is found murdered. Fingerprints reveal his true identity, which is a shock to the town and seems to tie in to a series of murders in 1985.

Emily Littlejohn creates a colorful mix of circus lore, town intrigue, class privilege and police procedural. Add in a pregnant detective, always a favorite for me, and we have a definite winner.

“Under the Midnight Sun” by Keigo Higashino. Minotaur, 560 pages.

Late in this story, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki tells a curious interviewee “It’s eighteen years’ worth of a tale, and I’m afraid we’d be sitting here a very long time in the telling.” At 550-plus pages, it is that. But the tale is told so well that I was a little sad to have it end.

It starts with the murder of an Osaka pawnbroker, found dead in an abandoned building in 1973. Sasagaki is on that case, and two decades later he is still alert for any news about the pawnbroker’s young son, Ryo, and a prime suspect’s young daughter, Yukiho.

From elementary school through young adulthood, Ryo and Yukiho build a fortune by manipulating their schoolmates and then their coworkers or lovers into committing crimes for them, or sometimes by maneuvering people out of their way. The luckier ones end up with ruined lives; the unlucky not even that.

It’s disturbing but fascinating to watch them build their scams and exploit people’s better natures, partly because Keigo Higashino spends time on backstories that bring the victims alive for us. He also drops in historical detail to help us track the passage of years: gas shortages, popular TV shows, disasters, peace talks.

It’s totally worth the “long time in the telling.”

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