One man damned as a wrongheaded fool.
One year and another he walked the streets,
And a thousand shrugs and hoots
Met him in the shoulders and mouths he passed."
At the conclusion of Carlo Lucarelli's "Carte Blanche" in the spring of 1945, the fascist government of Italy had just collapsed and Commissario (Investigator) De Luca, like many officials of all stripes tarred with the brush of employment by the regime, was last seen fleeing for parts unknown. Volume II of Lucarelli's De Luca Trilogy, "The Damned Season", finds Commissario De Luca in hiding, using a false identity, wandering through the towns and villages of northern Italy just trying to get by and avoid arrest by former partisans now in control of large areas of Italy. As luck would have it, De Luca stumbles into a village in which a triple homicide has just been committed. As fate would have it the partisan police officer tasked with investigating the murders recognizes De Luca and makes De Luca an offer he can't refuse, help me solve the murder and I will preserve you new identity or get arrested and executed. De Luca accepts the offer not just because of his strong desire for self-preservation but his almost compulsive desire to actually do what a detective does best - solve crimes.
The plot is not complex and although interesting not the main reason why this book was worth reading. As drawn by Lucarelli, De Luca is a pretty compelling figure. As noted in a Preface to the book the character of De Luca was formed after Lucarelli interviewed a police officer whose career spanned most of the middle years of the 20th-century. (The preface actually does a great job in setting up the essential character of De Luca and should not be overlooked.) He is neither a hero nor an antihero. He seems to want to be nothing more than to be a detective yet at the same time he cannot quite convince even himself that his brief stint in Mussolini's secret police did not stain his career. He may assert that he'd never tortured anyone and left the secret police as soon as he could but he knows that in post-war Italy any connection to the former regime are enough to doom him. Still, he manages to put all this aside and proceeds to help untangle the web of political, cultural and other intrigues that led to a brutal series of murder. This is what he does best and so solving crimes is what he will do even if he risks exposure and death.
Lucarelli's ability to recreate an atmosphere of Italy on the edge of chaos and anarchy in the post-war period brings "Damned Season" to life. I got a real sense of time and place while reading "Damned Season" just as I did in 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 this second volume you begin to get a feel for his personality without having had Lucarelli spell it out for me. On the downside, Lucarelli doesn't invest a lot of time on his secondary characters so there is something of a disconnect between our perception of De Luca based on a pretty good sense of the character and the remaining characters who do come across sometimes as more of stick-figures rather than flesh and blood characters. However, Lucarelli's fast-paced sense of action and the very convincing portrait he draws of post-war life in northern Italy more than makes up for these deficiencies.
"The Damned Season" was a good sequel to "Carte Blanche". The third and final volume (Via delle Oche) is, apparently, due out soon. I've read and enjoyed Volumes One and Two and look forward to the conclusion. L. Fleisig