Chaotic, fascist Italy is the tantalizing setting for the first entry in Lucarelli's (Almost Blue) De Luca trilogy. In the final year of WWII, while opportunism, desperation and resistance run rampant, Rehinard Vittorio, a well-connected Fascist, drug dealer and philanderer, is stabbed to death and castrated, leaving behind no dearth of suspects for the tortured insomniac, Commissario De Luca, to investigate. Was the murderer Rehinard's boss, the foreign affairs minister who's collaborating with the British, or the minister's morphine-addicted and sexually compromised daughter? How about the minister's political rival, whose wife and son are trying to buy their way into neutral Switzerland with drug profits? De Luca's a complex man who believes the police shouldn't be used as political goons, even as his investigation draws him deeper into the seedy underworld of a crumbling regime. His astutely rendered inner turmoil makes him an intriguing protagonist, but the other characters never spring to life. Lucarelli also breezes through the minutiae of Italian Fascism, which may leave American readers in the lurch, but these faults fail to overpower the trenchant grit of this excursion into Italian noir. (July)
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Author of the Grazia Negro series set in contemporary Bologna (see "The Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to Italy," p.10), Lucarelli also writes stand-alones. This one, set in Milan near the end of World War II, finds the country in chaos, with the south liberated by the Allies and the north under the control of the Nazis and a collaborationist government run by Mussolini. Commisario De Luca is a policeman caught between the various factions (there were 14 different police forces in Milan at the time) and trying to solve the murder of a local power broker. Following the tangled plot proves tough sledding, but the appeal here isn't story but mood: the darkened city streets, teeming with danger, both imagined and real; the trench-coated hero, dodging from shadow to shadow, hoping to get to the bottom of the problem in front of him but, contrarily, trying to stay off everybody's radar. This is Alan Furst country, to be sure, and if Lucarelli isn't quite as accessible to American readers as Furst, there is an extra layer of authenticity here that makes it all worthwhile. Bill Ott
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