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Detectives Beyond Borders: "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."

Date: Jun 26 2007

from Detectives Beyond Borders

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.--