The Damned Season continues the story of De Luca, a policeman caught up in the turmoil that is Italy at the end of World War II. Last left at the end of Carte Blanche going on the run, The Damned Season begins with him washing up in a small Italian town, a suspicious but eager policeman taking an interest in the man who claims his name is Morandi. De Luca has good reason for keeping his identity secret: all he is and all he wants to be is a policeman, but that's also what he was the past several years, serving too many ugly masters (including the Fascists and the German occupiers) for there not to be a lot of people gunning for him.
De Luca claims to be an engineer, but the local policeman Leonardi knows better -- and enlists De Luca's help in solving what appears to be a straightforward (i.e. for once not politically motivated) murder. Leonardi admits he doesn't know much about investigating crime, but he's eager to learn, and he knows De Luca can teach him a thing or two.
The police may investigate crimes, but politics and local power still matter for a lot more. One person no one wants to cross is Carnera, a war hero who wields considerable power and influence -- and doesn't have that much respect for the authorities. De Luca crosses paths not only with him but also his woman, the independent-minded La Tedeschina -- "I do whatever I want. And with whoever I want" she tells De Luca, which certainly doesn't help his cause much.
The police procedural is presented fairly simply, De Luca a cool-eyed pro (when he's physically up to it) imparting his wisdom on Leonardi -- and teaching him some patience:
"I don't think anything," said De Luca. "It's not time yet to be thinking." The resolution of the case -- even as it's explained almost off-hand -- turns out to be quite satisfying, but like the first volume in the De Luca trilogy the larger question here is whether one can stand above and beyond politics, whether it's possible to do a job like this police-work regardless of who the masters are. Leonardi is eager to become a competent policeman because he's sure that no matter what comes next: there may well be a revolution in Italy, but the police -- this much I've come to understand -- the police force always stays the same. De Luca has heard that before, and he also knows better. But deep down he knows it's also what he is destined to do. (The end of The Damned Season
, however, sees him -- despite cracking yet another case -- even worse off than the end of the previous installment.)
Again Lucarelli presents his story quickly and to the point. There's some investigating that seems at first to lead nowhere, and there are a few encounters and episodes that seem just like descriptions of De Luca's day, but in fact there's very little padding here: the story is stripped almost to its essentials (but without feeling stripped), and that also gives it some of its power. Most writers would have stretched out the same exact story over three times as many pages, but Lucarelli effectively gets to the points with a minimum of fuss. The only regret is that, while it's not necessary to know where De Luca is coming from (i.e. familiarity with Carte Blanche
is not necessary to fully enjoy this book), it's left so open what his fate is. One wishes that they'd published the entire trilogy in a single volume, instead of drawing out the torture like this .....