REVIEW: One Way to Venice by Jane Aiken Hodge
Five years ago, Julia Rivers’ life fell apart. After a whirlwind marriage to the love of her life, Julia found herself trapped in a family filled with secrets. When she was nearly killed, Julia and her unborn child fled, leaving behind this family who seemed to have it out for her.
Now, years after giving her newborn up for adoption, Julia begins receiving bizarre letters from an anonymous sender – the latest containing a picture of a boy that is unmistakably hers. Urged to find her son, Julia is sent a one-way ticket from London to Venice.
Joined by a mysterious stranger she meets on the train and armed with the knowledge that her ex-husband will also be in Venice, Julia dives back into the world of manipulation she thought she’d left behind.
In this gripping romantic mystery, Jane Aiken Hodge delivers a thriller filled with conspiracies, secrets, and danger.
After my last disappointing Aiken Hodge historical read, I decided to try something different. This sounded a little like a Mary Stewart suspense crossed with a gothic mystery. I ended up really liking it for the most part with just a few tiny issues at the end.
Julia is one of those superior assistants to someone who is obviously a very powerful man. Sir Charles basically remade Julia taking her from a seventeen year old Glaswegian guttersnipe and spending time and effort to hone her skills and intelligence while also acting a little like Henry Higgins and polishing her look. He was there for Julia in the aftermath of her disastrous marriage and, along with the medical experts, persuaded her that it was for the best that she give up her newborn son for adoption.
Five years later, Julia has begun receiving mysterious letters about her son. The adoption was closed with no information provided to her and until now, she’s thought it was the best for her son. Now she wonders and worries as the tone of the communications has a vaguely threatening feel. It’s nothing she could take to the police but when she gets travel information to Venice and a picture of Dominic, she knows he’s become real to her in a way she can’t ignore and that she has to go. What, and who, will she find there?
This was originally published in 1974 and though some of it feels a touch dated, the suspense grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. Julia is the quintessential lone woman caught in a web of danger and up against forces she doesn’t understand. The people sending her letters know who she is, have orchestrated her travel, and could be anyone. The taunting, malicious “feel” of them convince her that she has to go along with what they’ve set up for fear that they could just vanish and leave her unable to finally find her lost-to-her son. She has to weigh every action and scrutinize every person, unsure of who is watching her.
Julia is smart and methodical, though. She doesn’t just wait for contact but proactively begins to search through Venice’s canals, alleyways, and side streets. Every person she suspects has enough bona fides to make her second guess herself. All the tension has brought back the nightmares she thought behind her after her marriage fell apart and she fled those she was sure were trying to kill her back at her husband’s isolated family plantation outside Charleston, SC.
But has she been as careful as her training under Sir Charles’s tutelage ought to have made her? The final section of the novel has enough twisty bits to fill a pretzel factory. There were red herrings, surprises, reveals, double crosses, realizations, and finally the truth of what has been behind the past five years. Once I finished the book, I did begin to question why Julia didn’t do a few things before she left for Italy as even before the internet, she was working for someone who ought to have been able to pull strings and make discoveries. There are also some deus ex machina characters to save the day when events got our heroes painted into dangerous corners. Yet, I still enjoyed myself with this book and was glued to it. It’s a “I had to know what happened next” plus “I honestly didn’t know what was coming” book. I’m off to see if Aiken Hodge had any more of these. B