Joseph Kanon is a pretty good writer. However, this reviewer felt that the The Good German and Los Alamos were too similar in style and plot. So, it was with some trepidation that this reader began listening to this book.
At first, the story line and plot and plot appeared to be predictable, because the writing felt a lot like the two aforementioned novels. Kanon seems to really like the WWII era, and gives his characters a degree of maturity and sophistication that seems at odds with people of the same age today. A world at war probably causes people to grow up fast. At any rate, there seems to be no reason to doubt the accuracy of his depictions, as it bears a certain similarity to the literature and movies written and produced during this time period. There is a touch of class and flirtation that doesn’t seem present today. Digressions aside, the interesting thing is, that despite this book’s recent copyright, the author has managed to make it feel very much like something written in the 40’s (other than the obligatory sensualism). The characters seem very real.
Alibi is almost a contemporary version of Crime and Punishment. This was surprising. (There are quite a few parallels, from the psychological aspect from a murderer’s perspective, to the dogged police inspector who isn’t what he seems.) At the start the story seems to go in an entirely different direction than where it ends up. There is also good bit of Nietzsche’s monster theme in this book: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” The main character, Adam, descends into such an abyss, beginning with a murder, and then looks for a way to justify his actions. Along the way he makes some of the same choices that those he has condemned made (he is a former army investigator in charge of ferreting out ex-nazis in Germany.) … and he realizes it. The other main character, Claudia, a victim of the camps, has already sold her soul, “all that matters is survival”, and is able to justify anything she has to do, on the basis of what she has been through and what she was forced to do to survive. She tries to tell Adam that she is in fact broken, at the beginning of the story, but he insists that the war is over, and will not listen. In the end, she’s right. She’s a product of what she had to do to survive and it indelibly altered her character.
There are some interesting themes in the story. One of these is that there are some things worth dying for, and if you’re not willing to compromise your principles, you may end up dying for them. The back story on Claudia is that she voluntarily chose to follow her sick father into the camps. However, the choices she made in order to survive were fundamentally different than her decision to try and accompany her father (she was separated from him almost immediately). She ends up being a monster in her own right. This was juxtaposed against the ex-partisan communist who refuses to compromise her principles (she is unwilling to let an innocent take the rap, even though he’s dead)… and ends up being murdered – by Claudia.
It was a very thought-provoking story, with a lot of color and detail. This reader learned a lot about Venice and what life was like in Fascist Italy during and after WWII.