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The Complete Review: "The first in a trilogy, Carte Blanche is lean, compact, and a satisfying police procedural."

Date: Jul 10 2006

from The Complete Review

B+ : lean, atmospheric police procedural

Carte Blanche begins with an explosion, a bomb at a funeral procession. It's April, 1945 in Italy, and everyone is positioning themselves for what's going to happen next. The fascists for the most part can't entirely (or at least too openly) abandon the cause yet (the Germans are still in town) though they know it's hopeless, while it's also not yet safe for the underground to surface. It makes for a violent mess and considerable disorder.
One way to show there's some order ? Have the police do what they're supposed to do. As the police Chief explains:

 Why, the police must arrest thieves and murderers so that the Italian people know that in fascist Italy , in difficult times, the law is always the law !

Commissario De Luca has just joined the ranks, just transferred rrom the considerably more unsavoury Political Police. All he wants to do is be a good cop -- "You don't ask a policeman to make political choices, you ask him to do his job well" -- but he should know that politics is inescapable. In a way he understands it is: he can't believe he's actually supposed to investigate the first murder he gets called in on -- much less that he is to have 'carte blanche' in his handling of the case. Even carte blanche only goes so far -- if the Germans have their fingers in it, it's of course off limits -- but that's a whole lot further than he thought it went, given the current conditions.

The murder victim is Vittorio Rehinard. He is well-connected, has lots of lady-friends, has a stash of drugs -- and attended the local Spiritists' Club every Friday (though he was skeptical, "always fooling around").
Clues point to at least several visitors, but the person best-informed about the comings and goings, the house porter, disappears before he can be questioned. A few more bodies pile up, and De Luca finds that, carte blanche notwithstanding, he is being used: various interests have an interest in pointing him in specific directions. Far from being allowed to do as he wishes (i.e. find the real murderer) he is expected to point the finger at whatever figures the powers that be find convenient. Of course, there are competing powers that be ..... Lucarelli handles this quite cleverly -- and fast. Where most contemporary thriller writers would flesh each character and stretch each scene out for many pages, Lucarelli keeps things going by almost skimming along the surface. It makes for an almost breathless story, over before you know it. But the manipulations -- and the resolution -- make for some nice tensions. And in this time -- the Allies have just crossed the Po at the end of the novel -- tension is already consistently incredibly high.

The first in a trilogy, Carte Blanche is lean, compact, and a satisfying police procedural. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that it ends where it does, De Luca speeding off in a car before he can even close the door. At least the promise of two further volumes means there's something to look forward to.

A worthwhile quick read.

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