A Deadly Seduction: Venice in Four Acts
Love and death are inextricably bound in Venice: the beloved city slipping into watery doom; von Aschenbach’s desperate longing for the boy Tadzio, in Death in Venice; and the passionate verses of Lord Byron, a swimmer in her lagoon.
Venice, the winking courtesan, assaults us with her beauty when we emerge from Santa Lucia train station and gaze at the sinuous curves of her canals, glinting in the sun. We hear her voice in the musical chiming of church bells, we’re lulled by the gentle waves kissing her stone embankments, and as our senses are aroused, we feel the city was made just for romance. Instead, these books describe deadly encounters —with knives, rocks, iron pipes, and bare hands—showing that Venice has deceived us.
Dangerous after dark
Don’t Look Now – Daphne du Maurier
How do you cope with the death of your child? Hoping to lessen the searing pain, Laura and her husband, John, go on holiday to Venice. He’s anxious about her state of mind. Will she ever laugh again, enjoy life again? For too few ephemeral moments, they do so together: “The beauty of Venice rose before them, sharply outlined against the glowing sky…” But fleeting glimpses of an innocent child in a red rain slicker are a reminder of their little girl, forever lost. Twins, like Venice and her reflection, hold a communion with the unseen and a warning for the future that is quickly ignored. As John is drawn once more into a thicket of twisting alleyways, his instinct to love and protect is turned against him in the most brutal way.
Alibi – Joseph Kanon
Adam takes long walks in the mists of Venice as if in a dream, clearing his head and searching for purpose in his inchoate life as a civilian after serving in World War II. Once meeting and loving a traumatized Venetian, Claudia, he’s flummoxed by a society pretending to be ordinary, as if the war were a faint memory. As wealthy foreigners sip Champagne at galas inside magnificent palazzos, tragic secrets of the past lurk in this evocative thriller. Who informed on Jews rounded up and ultimately sent to Auschwitz? Who supplied the occupying Nazis with intelligence? Partisans, Fascists, Nazis, Communists. Adam discovers a cast of characters hiding their involvement while wounds from the war are still oozing blood. Where does the fight to survive end and guilt begin? When Adam slips into the tragic mire, the lines blur. He must decide what he can live with. Almost everyone, it seems, needs an alibi.
Girl from Venice – Martin Cruz Smith
Dark velvet skies covered by stars, and seas replete with life start Cenzo’s story. We accompany this modest fisherman using traps and nets, immersing us in his world of the senses. It’s a nocturnal one, far from the heart of Venice but where German gunboats still make waves. Cenzo’s life takes a sharp turn when he rescues a young woman from the water and finds she’s a Jew sought by the SS. He doesn’t hesitate to kill her Nazi attacker, risking his own life by saving hers in this slow-burning thriller. Like many others, Cenzo’s family is torn asunder by war—his brother acts as the Fascists’ favorite propaga
nda puppet. Hunting for his Giulia takes Cenzo to Salò during the last gasps of Mussolini’s tiny republic and the Nazis’ remaining stronghold. Can a fisherman with a simple moral code triumph over the powerful forces of deception and evil?
Stone Virgin – Barry Unsworth
We are plunged into the febrile mind of the sculptor Girolamo, imprisoned for killing a Venetian prostitute in 1432, the model for his wondrous rendering of a Madonna. In the late 1700s, Ziani wri
tes his memoirs, relating his conquest in a garden 50 years earlier, when the same stone Madonna watched over him and his virginal lover. Centuries later, Raikes, restoring the scarred sculpture, races to unearth her mysterious history. Working on her, he becomes obsessed, infused by an erotic yet violent spirit. A strange shimmering light brings him the sights and sounds of others close to the Madonna, as if he were living centuries ago. The past persists in Venice. Capturing the city in three different centuries, the book is a densely packed, sensual, and deadly tour-de-force.
Christine Evelyn Volker’s debut mystery, Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City, will be published in August by She Writes Press. Intrigued by foreign cultures, she explored Venice while working in Italy. Her website is found at: http://christinevolkerauthor.com/
Photo credit for Venice: Christine Evelyn Volker