After his Russian Arkady Renko series (Tatiana, 2013, etc.), Smith spins a tale about an Italian fisherman and the Jewish girl he finds floating in the sea.
In 1945, World War II is almost over, but the SS is still hunting Jews. Innocenzo “Cenzo” Vianello casts fishing nets into a Venice lagoon and finds a body in the water. He pulls the apparently dead young woman onto his boat, Fatima, and covers her with a sailcloth. Soon he finds her sitting up and eating his polenta. She is Giulia Silber, and the SS wants her. They have already killed the rest of her family. “The SS rounded up all the Jews,” a character says. “All but a girl who swam away.” For his part, Cenzo’s “sole intent was to outlive” the war, but he has Giulia dress up as a fellow fisherman and kills a German officer. Meanwhile, Cenzo’s older brother Giorgio leads a different type of life as a movie actor (“Prince Charming”) who proudly spreads propaganda for Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Cenzo would like “the pleasure of personally strangling his brother,” whom he calls “Mussolini’s golden boy.” Cenzo himself had been a pilot who’d been dishonorably discharged for refusing to attack Abyssinians with mustard gas, and now he’s content to just fish and paint. He's painted a picture of a fighter plane strafing the Fatima and killing his younger brother, Hugo. That piloting experience comes in handy as he’s asked to fly gold bullion to Switzerland in a tiny Stork reconnaissance plane. How he meets that challenge both illuminates his humanity and entertains the reader. In fact, all the characters come alive.
This is a thoughtful and engrossing novel with more than enough action to keep the pages turning.