Saturday, September 1, 2018

Guest Blogger: Neil Plakcy--A Floridian in Venice


Jeff—Saturday

[NEWS FLASH:  On behalf of all of us at Murder is Everywhere, I'm honored to announce we've just learned that MIE has been selected by the panel at Feedspot as among the Top 50 Crime Novel Blogs on the web!  Thank you very much Feedspot!  Now back to the stuff that earned us that award.]



For those of you who wonder what authors go through to infuse their stories with details that take readers to places with which they may be no more familiar than are you, here is how Neil Plakcy worked his magic with his just released, Survival is a Dying Art.

Neil has written or edited over three-dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. To research the Angus Green FBI thrillers, including The Next One Will Kill You, Nobody Rides for Free, and Survival is a Dying Art, he participated in the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, practiced at a shooting range, and visited numerous gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. (He says it was research.)


He is a professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction. His website is www.mahubooks.com.

Welcome, Neil!


Fort Lauderdale has been called “the Venice of America,” so it seemed appropriate to me to send my Lauderdale-based protagonist to Venice, Italy, in the third book in the Angus Green FBI thriller series, Survival is a Dying Art.

In book one of the series, I set up that Angus’s college student brother is hoping to spend a summer studying in Italy, and Angus is doing what he can to help fund this effort. So when I came to write the third book, I knew that I wanted to send Angus to Italy at some point to bring his brother on stage.

How to decide on an Italian setting, though? I’ve devoured Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series, set in Venice, and have great memories of my visit there many years ago. At that time, I took a ride on a boat called Il Burchiello, up the Brenta Canal to Padua, passing and stopping at many of the Venetian villas of the Riviera del Brenta. It was a fabulous trip, and I met a family on it who were descended from Italian Jews. That began a long interest in that community, which flourished for centuries in Venice and its environs, only to be wiped out by the Holocaust.

Piazza San Marco from the lagoon

As I began to figure out the plot of the book, I decided to send Angus to Venice to retrieve a painting stolen by the Nazis from a gay Italian Jew. Italian Jews were subject to racial laws starting in 1938, when Mussolini came to power, but it wasn’t until September 1943 that organized deportations to concentration camps began. During those five years, many Italian Jews thought that because they were Italians first, they would be safe, or that at least the Pope would protect them from the Nazis.


Plaque honoring dead Jews

That’s why art collector Ugo Sena didn’t leave the country to join his brother in the United States. When Ugo was sent to Auschwitz, his collection of paintings and sculptures was confiscated and stored in a nearby church, Beata Vergine della Laguna, the Blessed Virgin of the Lagoon, on the Calle Ghetto Vecchio in Venice.




The crown jewel of Ugo’s collection is a painting called Ragazzi al Mare, “Young Men by the Sea,” by a painter named Mauricio Fabre. Fabre was a member of the movement called the Macchiaioli, a group of former soldiers from the Risorgimento who wanted to restore Italy’s prominence in the art world.

Ugo, the church, Fabre and his painting are all fictional, but doing the research on these artists, and on what Ugo’s life was like before the Holocaust, helped bring the book alive to me. The connection to Fort Lauderdale, and Angus Green, is Ugo’s nephew, a gay retiree, who uses the Internet to hunt for this lost painting. The search brings him in contact with a man of interest to the FBI.

 

Angus has a two-pronged interest. He wants to return the painting to its rightful owner, in the process “giving the finger to the Nazis,” and he also wants to use that quest to bring him into the orbit of this man of interest, who has fingers in the smuggling of gold watches from Turkey (a source of great quality fakes) and perhaps even convincing desperate refugees to embark on perilous journeys to freedom.


It’s a lot to cram into a thriller, of course, but I loved sending Angus to Italy and seeing Venice through his eyes and those of his younger brother. I hope readers will feel the same way. And for an extra bit of oomph, there's a subplot about a set of solid gold brothel tokens (also called spintriae) that are being smuggled into the United States.



—Neil, in for Jeff

4 comments:

  1. What a fantastic setting and premise! I love that you tie in so many intriguing historical details - especially the stolen art, which although merely a tiny tip of the horrific iceberg of the holocaust, adds an interesting depth to the story. I'll have to pick up the novel! And thank you for guest posting here at MIE!

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  2. Thanks, Neil, sounds fascinating!

    And congratulations to all the MIE writers who've made this blog such a great place to visit.

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  3. Oh, Neil, I have to read this book. I have taken a great interest in the Italians and the holocaust for many years--since I stayed in a villa-hotel in Ferrara owned by a Jewish family, who showed me where their servants hid them from the Nazis.

    The best source I know on the subject is The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival by Susan Zuccotti. She set out to analyze why 85% of Italian Jews survived the holocaust, while in Germany, France, and the low countries, more than 85% perished. My favorite of her eight reasons was: the Italians en masse followed their typical anarchistic attitude toward stringent rules and generally disobeyed the German occupiers.

    On top of that, I also have taken a huge interest art from that went missing in the WWII period, a fascination that began with the book The Rape of Europa.

    To say nothing of my love of Venice that began with my first trip there in 1973, a time so long ago that it nearly qualifies as historical!!

    I'm buying it!

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  4. Thanks for hosting me-- and for all your comments. Annamaria, I'll have to look out for that book. I've been fascinated with Italian Jews for some time now.

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