Carte Blanche Paperback – Jul 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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"Carte Blanche" is set in Northern Italy, April, 1945. WWII is about to end and the Allied forces are closing in on Milan. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, as well as hundreds of Fascist Party members and government officials, are frantically attempting to flee Italy to Switzerland.
The country's entire power structure is collapsing. The author reflects this tumultuous period in his writing, "There is, above all enormous moral and political confusion that mixes together the desperation of those who know they are losing, the opportunism of those ready to change sides, the guilelessness of those who haven't understood anything, and even the desire for revenge in those who are about to arrive."
Commissario De Luca has just transferred from the "Brigate Nere," the Black Brigade, to the Questura, the regular police force. The Black Brigade, the Political Police, is one of the many paramilitary and police groups operating in the Italian Social Republic. De Luca is an extremely competent policeman and investigator who considers himself to be apolitical. He never participated in any of the brutal behavior the Brigate is known for. "You don't ask a policeman to make political choices, you ask him to do his job well." Only a few days into his new job, he is assigned to investigate a brutal murder.
Twenty-four year-old Rehinard Vittorio, a wealthy Italian citizen and member of the Fascist Republican Party since 1944, is found dead in his apartment, stabbed through the heart and groin. Vittorio's party membership was sponsored by Count Alberto Maria Tedesco, a member of the Republic's diplomatic corps. In other words, the victim was very well connected. Primary witnesses to the events surrounding the murder are the maid, and the porter, who called in the crime. Both are missing. The porter's wife, however, is present and willingly informs De Luca that Rehinard Vittorio received a constant stream of women visitors. On the morning of his death, two women were seen leaving his apartment at different times, a pretty blond, "but crazy as a loon," and a brunette with glasses. Unfortunately, in a political sense, the blond turns out to be Count Tedesco's daughter. The brunette is the wife of Tedesco's primary political rival. De Luca teams up with another cop, Maresciallo Pugliese, to solve the case and finds that the two are on the same wavelength. They work well together and there is real humor in their sardonic banter.
De Luca assumes that, given the powerful status of his potential suspects, his superiors will instruct him to go easy on the investigation, or at least to treat the people involved with much discretion to avoid upsetting them. Commissario De Luca is surprisingly wrong on this one. The Questura Chief, and the Party Secretary, Federale Vitale, inform the detective that, "It is Il Duce's express will, and ours, too, obviously, that police carry out their duties without impediments, for those matters within their jurisdiction. Why, the police must arrest thieves and murderers so that the Italian people know that in fascist Italy, even in difficult times, the law is always the law!" (Hah!!). Thus he is urged to conclude the case and deal with the powerful just as he would the common folks. He is frequently thwarted from doing his job, however, by others not involved in official crime solving. He is almost killed in one mysterious attempt on his life.
This is not only a most unusual and well written crime novel, but it also accurately portrays the historic period in Italy during the final days of WWII. The author has done extensive research and in his preface he tells about a policeman he met who actually spent forty years in the Italian police, from 1941 - 1981. This is the person who inspired "Carte Blanche" and the two other novels which follow it. One of the major points of tension in the novel, is that protagonist De Luca discovers that he, as a former member of the Black Brigade, is on the partisan's death list.
I not only enjoyed "Carte Blanche" but liked the character of Commissario De Luca. Valeria Suvich, a beautiful fortune teller, finds De Luca to be, a "person who hides." "You're the kind that's always thinking about work, you even dream about it at night," (the two had just slept together, so she knows), "the kind who's always busy, always on the run, never stopping." She tells him that few people really know who they are and what they're doing, which is why he firmly holds on to his role as a policeman. This way he doesn't have to think about the frontline, which is getting closer every day, or about food rations, or about being arrested by the partisans. The detective is a complex man, with obvious personal baggage. He has insomnia and doesn't eat very much. But there is something honest and real and compelling about him.
As I mentioned above, Carlo Lucarelli's "Carte Blanche" is the first volume in a trilogy. Following it are book 2, "The Damned Season," and book 3, "Via Delle Oche." "Carte Blanche" is quite short at 108 pages...but it really packs a punch!! Highly recommended.
The Damned Season (De Luca Trilogy 2)
Via delle Oche (De Luca Trilogy, Book 3)
"Carte Blanche", the first volume in what is known as the De Luca Trilogy, is rich in storytelling and atmosphere. As drawn by Lucarelli, De Luca is an interesting character. He is neither a hero nor an antihero. He seems to want to be nothing more than to be a detective yet as the story opens he has just transferred back to the regular police force after a stint with the secret police. He'd left because he didn't like that sort of work and seems quite willing to point out that no, he'd never tortured anyone. He is savvy enough to know that an investigation like this is one with political undercurrents that could put him in danger but his compulsion to gather facts and put together the pieces of a puzzle outweighs his sense of caution. As a result we see a story where De Luca persists in pursuing an investigation even when all his instincts tell him he is walking through a minefield.
The strength of "Carte Blanche" lies primarily in Lucarelli's ability to create an atmosphere of Italy on the edge of chaos. I got a real sense of time and place while reading "Carte Blanche". Apart from De Luca, Lucarelli does not invest a lot of time in presenting us with a full-blown character analysis of the key parties to the crime and its aftermath. We also don't get a lot of the internal life of De Luca but De Luca's actions tend to speak for themselves and over the course of the book I got a nice feel for his personality without having had Lucarelli spell it out for me.
At the story's end we see the threads of the investigation pulled together while the threads holding together the reigns of government come fully undone. The resolution is not so much a conclusion as it is a signal that De Luca and Italy are in for some very interesting times in the months and years to come. "Carte Blanche" was a very satisfying first volume to the De Luca Trilogy. Volume Two The Damned Season (De Luca Trilogy 2) has been republished recently and the third and final volume (Via delle Oche) is, apparently, due out soon. I've read and enjoyed Volume Two and look forward to the conclusion. Recommended. L. Fleisig
The book opens with a stiff. He was apparently some big wig and Commissario De Luca is assigned to figure out whodunit. De Luca fashions himself as just a cop trying to do his job straight. But in a totalitarian society, politics is always there and will be injected into every situation whether it should be or not and whether it is welcome or not. De Luca has some tough choices to make as a result.
The book moves briskly and focuses on the action. The lack of deep characterization did not bother me. This is noir, after all. These people should not have depth. But Lucarelli throws so many characters into the mix in such a short period of time that, even at a meager 100+ pages, CARTE BLANCHE required a score card to keep everyone straight. Developing the actual action a bit more would have gone a long way. I see that, of the three books in the trilogy, this one has the lowest collective rating on amazon. Maybe I will not give up on this series yet, but I do hope the next one is better.
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.