Some Suspects Are Ruled Out
The Italy of an earlier era is the setting for Carlo Lucarelli's nifty short thriller Carte Blanche (Europa; paperback, $14.95; translated from the Italian by Michael Reynolds). It is 1945, and Commissario De Luca must investigate the fatal stabbing of a well-connected young fascist known for sleeping with some of Milan's most alluring women. Several of them visited the fellow's apartment on the day he was castrated and stabbed in the heart.
Benito Mussolini's regime is disintegrating as the allies move northward, so politics intrude on De Luca's sleuthing. If the killer turns out to be German, might De Luca arrest him? "A German, no. But that is obvious," a supervisor tells him. The suspects are a flavorsome lot, including a count's morphine-addicted daughter, who comes on to De Luca like one of the Sternwood sisters in The Big Sleep .
While the police work in Carte Blanche is smart and suspenseful, the most striking feature is Lucarelli's textured depiction of life in a society where power is shifting from murderous oppressors to the seething oppressed. One murder suspect tells De Luca, "It makes me laugh, this idiotic rivalry with [Count] Tedesco to see who is the cleverest and most available collaborator. . . . As soon as the front falls they'll chase them down and put them all up against a wall without even asking their names." This could be any number of other societies where the tables have turned violently.
By Richard Lipez