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Mostly Fiction: "The tone and mood are pure noir stuff, as De Luca lurches around in an insomniac haze watching his back for a partisan bullet."

Date: 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.

by Tony Ross
from Mostly Fiction