Saturday, June 16, 2007

Carlo Lucarelli, "The Damned Season"

This is the second of Carlo Lucarelli's three novels about Commissario De Luca, a police officer by talent, inclination and temperament, if not always by title, in post-World War II Italy. The story is inextricably tied to its setting, and the book's most fascinating feature may be the preface, in which Lucarelli explains its genesis.

Lucarelli was working on a thesis whose title sounds like a mid-1960s Bob Dylan song, "The Vision of the Police in the Memories of Anti-Fascists," when he "ran across a strange character who in a certain sense changed my life."

The strange character had spent forty years in the Italian police, a tenure that brought him from the fascist political police, who tailed first anti-fascists, then those who were fascists but happened not to like Mussolini. During the war, he spied on and arrested anti-fascist saboteurs again before switching sides when part of Italy fell under the control of partisans who fought alongside the Allies (and the Allies have a huge presence in The Damned Season). This meant arresting fascists, at least until Italy formed a regular government, and he became a part of the republic's police, spying on partisans who had been his colleagues and were now considered subversives.

"There is, above all," Lucarelli writes, "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 are about to arrive." There were all these plus, in Milan, at least sixteen police forces, from the regular Questura to the Gestapo, "each doing as they pleased and sometimes arresting one another."

Into this confusion steps De Luca, sitting by a land mine as The Damned Season opens, deprived seemingly of his job, and soon thereafter of his false identity papers by a rough-edged officer with partisan sympathies and almost no police experience. On his way to God knows what fate with the officer, De Luca is dragged into helping the officer investigate a murder, motive robbery — or is it that simple?

The solution to the crime is slight, even off-hand, as one reviewer aptly wrote. But the tangled motives, sympathies, animosities and, above, all, relations of power seem an embryonic version of an Italy that will seem familiar from the fiction of Leonardo Sciascia or Michael Dibdin — or from real life.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

This is on my TBR pile so I better get back to my reading, because it sounds very good.

June 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm mildly surprised you haven't read it already. My thoughts on The Damned Season were similar to yours on the first De Luca book. In fact, the history, and Lucarelli's appetite for that history, are so compelling that they overcome what I think is a pretty thin plot.

June 17, 2007  
Blogger sauron said...

This is a part of a very good trilogy...

June 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's not yet a trilogy for English-language readers; Via Delle Oche has not yet been translated into English.

I'll look for the first in the trilogy, published in English as Carte Blanche. I think these books will get readers thinking seriously about history, about the human consequences of political actions. Perhaps one day Lucarelli will finish his thesis.

(For readers who know Italian, sauron's Web site, Jazz al Nero, provides bibliographical and biographical information for lots and lots and lots of crime writers. Here's the entry for Carlo Lucarelli:

June 17, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter, The Damned Season has only just been published in the UK in English. At least this trilogy is being published in the correct order.
Any mix of history and crime fiction has got to be worth a read, and Carte Blanche was both informative and entertaining. One lesson was that wars don't usually end with a nice clean armistice,and everything returning to normal.

June 18, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think U.S. publication is very recent as well. I had a review copy that gave a publication date in May.

That Damned Season wasn't just a mix a crime fiction and history, it was a unity in which the two are inextricable. Lucarelli has imagined his period more convincingly than any other author of "historical" crime fiction I have ever read. I'm not sure how much of this is due to his talent, and how much is due to the recentness of the history, but the book will be worth a second look so I can figure out how he did what he did.

I suspect the latter is responsible for a good part of the attraction, especially for a reader like you, who enjoys reading about Italy. The country's corruption is a byword, almost a natural phenomenon, taken for granted by all. That Damned Season and, I suspect, the rest of the trilogy as well accomplishes that salutary and magical feat of giving this phenomenon a history.

June 18, 2007  

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