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San Diego Union-Tribune: "Italy's Carlo Lucarelli proves that the dark and sinister are better evoked when one opts for unadulterated grit and grime."

Date: Jul 2 2006

The killing fields can be found all around

For the reader who dares to believe that human nature is inherently good, it's not the blood and gore in violent books that disturbs most profoundly. It's the sudden and terrible single-mindedness of the violent mind – the possibility that when it comes down to it, we are really just puppets of our basest instincts: to avenge, to hurt, to kill. The three works of fiction reviewed this month are meditations on troubled souls touched by the sinister tentacles of violence.

Italy's Carlo Lucarelli proves that the dark and sinister are better evoked when one opts for unadulterated grit and grime. His political espionage thriller “Carte Blanche” is classic noir, a slim, taut, stylish volume that unfolds in the midst of the political upheaval that tossed Italy from the Germans to the Allies during World War II, with every cop, count and collaborator double-crossing the others to avoid prosecution.”

Caught up in this baleful snarl is the novel's protagonist, Commissario DeLuca, who has changed allegiances so many times he can't get people to call him by his proper job title (“It's Commandante no longer, signore”). The war rages around him, drowning him in insomnia, close calls and torrents of blood, much of it on the hands of people from within his own social circle. One can't help imagining if one's own family and friends wouldn't succumb to similar betrayals – one of the greatest horrors of war.

As with many crime thrillers, where the characters enter grandiosely, provide clues and are abruptly whisked out of the story, Lucarelli's novel is a bit lacking in character development. It's a short novel, and DeLuca is the one man we really get a feel for. But happily, “Carte Blanche” is part of a trilogy, so maybe Lucarelli's witty, alluring women get more exposure in the next installment.

By Tiffany Lee-Youngren