Wednesday, April 25, 2007

De Luca trilogy, part 2

Carlo Lucarelli's 1940s-noir series featuring Detective De Luca began with Carte Blanche and now continues (in English) with The Damned Season. Where as the first novel (or novelette, since each of these books is barely over 100 pages) dealt with De Luca's experience in a corrupt, decadent, and fading Fascist Italy, and ended with De Luca on the road attempting to escape from Allied troops that might not have any sympathy for a cop in the political squad, The Damned Season deals with De Luca on the run and hiding under false identity papers. He quickly falls under the control of a small-town policeman who represents the Partisan, anti-Fascists who are taking over control as the Fascists flee north along with the Nazi troops. De Luca was caught in the web of the politics and influence in Rome in the first book, but still had some scope for independent action. Here, he has lost his independence completely. The local cop doesn't know who he is, but knows he's a carabinieri or policeman from Rome, enough to sentence him to death. But the cop, who has little investigative exprience, is using De Luca to solve a murder case, and the solution to the mystery threatens to make things worse for De Luca as the case reveals the fault lines of the Partisan takeover. Who's in charge changes, but how business is conducted doesn't. This series, brief as each novel is, is very dark, brooding even, and no one escapes the misery and fear that envelopes everything. The brief prefaces, explaining the source of the author's interest in and information about the Italian police of that era, are essential to understanding what's going on. In a sense more palpable than in most crime novels, the author's starting point informs and expands the reader's experience of the books. My only complaint is that as short as the novels are, I wish that they could have been made available in English at the same time, or at shorter intervals. I'm impatient for the next installment--less to see what happens to De Luca than to see how Lucarelli's insight about the professional policeman at the core of his story plays out in the era of the re-imposition of state power over the near anarchy of the society depicted in The Damned Season.

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