Sunday, June 11, 2006

Crimes Among the Canals

Book publishing exec-turned-novelist Joseph Kanon has been named as this year’s winner of the Hammett Prize for his 2005 historical thriller, Alibi. The Hammett is given out annually by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers “for a work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing.”

Set in 1946, as Europe is starting to recover from the death and devastation of World War II, Alibi follows Adam Miller to Venice, Italy, a city generally untouched by the confrontation. Miller, who’d been a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in Germany, is joining his widowed mother, Grace, who’s come from New York to resume her existence as a well-heeled American expat on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. And at least for a while, their lives seem to be settling back into the languid pace with which they were familiar before 1939. Grace has become reacquainted with an old but (to Adam’s mind) suspicious doctor friend, the suave Gianni Maglione, while the ex-G.I. himself falls for Claudia Grassini, a Jewish woman marked by her experiences during the war--and by the choices she was compelled to make to survive that bloody conflict. But the fireworks are lit when Claudia encounters Gianni, and accuses him not only of having helped the Germans during the Occupation, but condemning her own father to the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz. Part love story, part revenge yarn, part atmospheric travel tale, Alibi was praised by Library Journal as “an engrossing drama where the ultimate mystery, as one of the characters notes, is not ‘who done it’ but who people are.”

This isn’t the first time author Kanon has won literary acclaim. His debut novel, Los Alamos (1995), picked up an Edgar Allan Poe Award and his subsequent two novels, The Prodigal Spy (1999) and The Good German (2001), were both critically lauded.

Other contenders for the 2006 Hammett Prize (named, of course, in honor of American hard-boiled crime writer Dashiell Hammett) were: Islandbridge, by John Brady; The Door to Bitterness, by Martin Limón; No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy; and The Power of the Dog, by Don Winslow.

ADDENDUM: Kanon talks about Alibi in an interview to be found here. And you can read an excerpt from the novel here.

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