While reading this book I imagined I could feel my testicles shrinking. At least I hope I was imagining it.
I put this in my get-at-library list thanks to it being one of the Edgar Best Novel Nominees for 2022. Which is supposedly for best mystery novel. But I had a very hard time putting it in that genre. The mysterious content is slim to none. No crimes, unless you count war and fascist atrocities as crimes. And it's definitely aimed at those readers identifying as hopelessly romantic chicks. The only hard-boiled things in this book are occasional mentions of hard-boiled eggs. I felt like I was reading a novelization of a Hallmark Movie.
(Well, a novelization of my impression of what a Hallmark Movie is like; I've never actually watched one.)
There's a prologue of a lady named Juliet getting recruited for WWII spycraft by a British consul in 1940 Venice; Italy has just thrown in with the Axis powers, and Brits are persona non grata.
This spy stuff isn't mentioned again until page 324 of this 394-page book; over 80% done.
From that intriguing beginning, the book proceeds on two timelines: one starting in 1928, describing how a young Juliet came to Venice and over the years developed complex and colorful relationships with some of the inhabitants, including the dashing Leo, rich scion of a noble family. The other thread is set in 2001, where Caroline is trying to recover from a divorce from her unfaithful husband, who's absconded with his new sweetie to America, and (worse) keeping their young son in violation of their custody agreement. (Even) worse, Caroline's great-aunt Juliet (yes, that one) kicks the bucket, but not before giving Caroline a few keys and muttering a last request for her to go to Venice to find… something. (These old ladies never seem to set explicit instructions in writing before it's too late.)
So the mystery, such as it is: find out what these keys are for, which Caroline determines mostly by dumb coincidence. And flesh out what happened to Juliet during the war. She eventually does, but not before finding some of that sweet romance her own self.
Talk about clichés: there's even a rom-com "meet cute"; Juliet meets Leo when she attempts to fish a floating cardboard box full of about-to-be-drowning kittens. She kerplunks into the filthy canal herself, Leo fishes her out. And it's loooove at first sight.