"Via Delle Oche"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage JUL 12, 2008)
“Who knows, maybe I’ve always been a whore down deep.”
Via Delle Oche, the third novel in the De Luca trilogy from Carlo Lucarelli finds Commisario De Luca back in Bologna. It’s April 1948, and although De Luca has survived the downfall of Mussolini’s government, he’s now demoted to Special Sub Commisario assigned to the vice squad. But De Luca’s skill is in the solution of homicides--not harassing prostitutes.
While prostitution is legal (and remained so until 1958), it is an industry regulated and policed by the state, and this is where De Luca comes in. As a vice squad officer, he finds himself in the unwanted role of a sort of legalized pimp. One of his jobs is to ensure that the bordellos follow the rules, and this includes the mandatory turnover of the staff every 15 days. Harassing prostitutes, checking licenses and paperwork is hardly glamorous work, and it’s in this degrading position that De Luca once again becomes involved in solving murders.
The novel begins with De Luca’s first day on the job, and he has a reunion of sorts with an old acquaintance, Pugliese. Pugliese notes that both men have “made it through,” while others have not been so fortunate. De Luca is not a political creature, and he always views himself as a policeman first and foremost--regardless of which political party his boss may belong to. But in spite of the fact that De Luca has largely managed to evade the stain of Mussolini’s government, these are still dangerous times. While the war is over, there are many changes afoot. With Mussolini gone, there’s a strong possibility of the country swinging away from the right with the election of a communist government, but there are also extremely powerful forces determined to ensure that the communists lose and that the Christian Democrats take power.
Against this backdrop of unsettling political times De Luca begins to investigate the death of Ermes Ricciotti, an employee in one of the bordellos on Via Delle Oche. While Ricciotti’s death has been staged to appear a suicide, De Luca knows immediately that this was murder. But what’s so puzzling is that De Luca’s superiors insist that the case is closed.
De Luca has a relentless resistance when it comes to solving murders, and he forges ahead with the investigation. Soon more corpses appear, and they are all the corpses of communists. Warned off the case, De Luca faces sexual temptation in the form of a luscious prostitute, but those who attempt to bribe and alternately threaten De Luca from his pursuit of the killer don’t know what they are dealing with. Quiet, contemplative, and above all stubborn, De Luca’s chronic dyspepsia always returns and becomes the physical manifestation of his conscience as he struggles with a case. And while it may be in De Luca’s self-interest to keep quiet, he really can’t stop himself from his dogged determination to solve the crimes.
Once again Lucarelli presents De Luca as an individual caught up in the disturbing background of political events, and once again while De Luca feels that politics have little to do with police work, the volatile political situation in Italy is responsible for the quagmire he faces. The fascist dictatorship of Mussolini is gone, but there are powerful, subtle forces at work that will ensure that the communists do not take power. The country is flooded with American anti-communist propaganda, and as Italy’s politics are effectively poisoned for the next several decades, the seeds of collusion between the corrupt Italian government and organized crime are sown. The cold war looms, and paramilitary organizations will seem to dissolve only to resurface under new names. Operation Gladio, internal subversive operations and the subsequent Strategy of Tension all lie ahead in Italy’s clandestine systems, but at this time, on election eve of 1948 most Italians still labour under the illusion that they have choices and can vote for democratic change. Italy will suffer through decades of subterfuge, but in 1948 power was seized; it’s just that people didn’t know it. And De Luca, who doesn’t really care which political party the murderers or their victims belong to, simply wants to solve crimes.
Lucarelli’s marvelous introduction explains how he met a policeman who had served forty years--from 1941-1981, surviving regime changes and sweeping political upheavals during the course of his career. Obviously this meeting served as the inspiration for the unforgettable character of De Luca--a mild mannered man who just wants to do his job. Recreating a crucial, explosive time in Italy’s history, Lucarelli successfully captures time and place in Via Delle Oche -- a spectacular conclusion to this marvelous trilogy. (Translated by Michael Reynolds.)
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
"The Damned Season"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage APR 11, 2008)
“Sometimes it’s less upsetting to see a man killed than a chicken.”
Carte Blanche, the first volume in the De Luca Trilogy concluded with the collapse of Benito Mussolino’s fascist government, and with the laconic, likeable hero Police Commissario De Luca on the run. In The Damned Season—the second volume in the trilogy, De Luca, stained by his association with Mussolini’s brutal regime, is in desperate straits. It’s 1945, and with the war over, and Italy in chaos, De Luca tries to evade capture and the inevitable reprisal for his role in the fascist government. Unfortunately for De Luca, who sees himself as just a policeman who did his duty, the fate of a fugitive government employee fleeing in the countryside is not a pleasant one. Although Commissario De Luca did not participate in some of the more brutal interrogation techniques used by other policemen, he realizes that roaming groups of Resistance fighters will kill him if his identity is discovered. De Luca is close to starvation and exhaustion when Brigadier Leonardi, a member of the Partisan Police, recognizes and detains him.
Leonardi, however, doesn’t turn De Luca over for execution. Instead Leonardi, who’s young and ambitious, expects De Luca to help him solve the grisly murders of four people and a dog. Leonardi is a novice when it comes to solving murder, and so he coerces De Luca, “the most brilliant detective in the Italian police force” to assist in the investigation. The victims were penniless peasants, and while the son was a petty thief and poacher, there seems to be no clear motive.
De Luca, intrigued by the crime, and in spite of dire warnings from some of the locals to let the murders remain unsolved, is slowly dragged into the investigation. But there are other unsolved and mysterious disappearances that have yet to be explained, and while De Luca provides some answers, he finds himself in the middle of a nest of conspiratorial silence. Carnera, a local thug who has gained stature for surviving torture inflicted by the notorious Black Brigades appears to block De Luca’s investigation at every turn. The prevailing attitude seems to be that some people deserve to die, and some questions shouldn’t be asked. These are vicious times, and De Luca knows that it’s easy to disappear without a trace….
The Damned Season is a slim novella that manages to capture the desperate shifting power structure at play as the fascist government collapses and people struggle to carve a favorable place in the new regime. Those who have cooperated with the fascists pay a heavy price for their crimes with justice served vigilante style outside of the bounds of a courtroom. And while national chaos reigns, the opportunistic seize the bloody moment—sometimes with less than the purest of motives.
With typical Lucarelli style, there are few words wasted in the novella, yet De Luca’s compelling personality manages to reach through the pages. De Luca, still suffering from the perpetual dyspepsia that plagues him, is an odd character. With his own strict set of ethics, he’s not too fussy who he works for. To him it’s all about the crime and how to solve it. Once again De Luca is expected to compromise in order to save his own skin, and once again his methodical, unflappable style is delightfully evident.
Lucarelli’s protagonist, De Luca will appeal to fans of crime and noir fiction. The novella, with its strong sense of time and place, includes a must-read introduction in which the author explains his inspiration for the De Luca character—a police who survived many regime changes: a man who “with each change of government he found himself having to tail, to spy on, and to arrest those who had previously been his bosses.” The third volume in the trilogy Ville Delle Oche is due for release from Europa books this spring. As a fan, I look forward to the conclusion of this gripping series.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
(Reviewed by Tony Ross SEP 30, 2006)
Within the crime genre, I find that there's something inherently interesting in stories about policemen or detectives working within nasty regimes.
There's Philip Kerr's excellent "Berlin Noir" trilogy starring P.I. Bernie Gunther, partially set in Nazi Germany. There's J. Robert Janes series featuring a French detective teamed up with a Gestapo agent in Vichy France during WWII. There's Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series, whose early books such as Gorky Park show the life of a Soviet cop in Moscow. And in the early '90s, Carlo Lucarelli wrote a trilogy set in the waning days of Fascist Italy, starring Commisario De Luca. In his introduction to this long-overdue translation, Lucarelli explains how an encounter with a retired policeman opened his eyes to an era when loyalties shifted with the wind, and factionalism reigned -- even among the police.
The story takes place circa April 1945 in Milan, where De Luca has just been switched from one of the political police units to the civil police as the German-allied civil administration is on the brink of collapse. It opens with the discovery of the body of a wealthy Italian/German fascist of murky occupation and many connections. Things get quickly complicated, as the fascist was also quite the lothario, and De Luca's capable team has its work cut out trying to establish just who might have been in the victim's apartment around the time of the murder. Further complications come from the general atmosphere, as partisans are loose in the city getting a head start on evening the score with those working for the Il Duce's regime.
Despite being very short -- really novella length -- the plot gets slightly overwhelming at times due to its complexity and the rapid pace. However readers who aren't distracted by all the smoke and mirrors will likely note the existence of a fairly substantial clue and obvious suspect. The tone and mood are pure noir stuff, as De Luca lurches around in an insomniac haze watching his back for a partisan bullet. My one major qualm with the book would be its length, it only takes about 90 minutes to read and one wishes that the publisher had proceeded with translating the entire trilogy and releasing it in a single volume rather than making us wait to see how (or if) De Luca survives the chaos.
- Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
The Commissario De Luca Series:
- Carte Blanche (1990; July 2006 in English)
- L'estate Trobida / The Damned Season (1991; May 2007)
- Via delle Oche (1996; June 2008)
The Ispettore Grazia Negro Mystery Series:
- Lupo Manarro
- Almost Blue (1997; 2001 in English)
- Day After Day (2004)
- Un giorna dopo l'altro (2005)
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- Official website for Carlo Lucarelli (in Italian)
- Wikipedia page on Carlo Lucarelli
- Complete Review on Carte Blanche
- Austin Chronicle review of Carte Blanche
- Tangled Web review of Day After Day
- Complete Review of The Damned Season
- Words without Borders review of Via Delle Oche
- Houston Chronicle review of Via Delle Oche
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About the Author:
Carlo Lucarelli was born in 1960 in Modena, Italy. He is one of Italy’s best-loved crime writers. His publishing debut came with the extremely successful De Luca Trilogy in 1990 and he has since published over a dozen novels and collections of stories. He is an active member of several Italian and international writer’s association, he teaches at Alessandro Baricco’s Holden School in Turin and in Padova’s maximum security prison.
One of the most exciting young writers in Europe, he has written eleven novels, all of them noirs. Lucarelli hosts a popular television series in Italy that examines unsettling and unsolved crimes and the urban centres in which they occur. He also teaches writing in Turin and edits an on-line magazine.