Welcome to the declining days of Italy’s fascist republic, with the invading allies having already occupied half the country. It’s not the easiest of times to be a cop, because the partisans want to kill you and the fascist bureaucracy will quite happily throw you to the wolves if they think it gives them the slightest prospect of saving their own skins.
It’s a particularly hard time to be a cop if you happen to have integrity — if you really want to catch criminals rather than solve cases in the way that’s most politically convenient, to hell with matters of innocence or guilt.
That’s the position Commissario De Luca finds himself in. No wonder he’s cursed by insomnia.
Vittorio Rehinard has been murdered — stabbed through the heart and then gelded. It soon emerges that he’s been dealing extensively in morphine, and that his clients include family members of people of great influence. Investigating, De Luca is soon in the midst of political infighting between two of Italy’s fascist wings, each hoping to mold the case in the way that best advantages them. But De Luca’s determined to persevere until he can arrest the real killer of Rehinard, even if he must risk his own life to do so.
This is a very short book — in fact, if the other two in Lucarelli’s De Luca Trilogy are of similar length (they’re on order but haven’t arrived yet), the three together would make up a fairly standard-size (at least in today’s terms) crime novel. This isn’t a complaint: the brevity’s refreshing and the tale’s a good one. If feeling persnickety, one could fault the novel for the quality of De Luca’s ratiocinatory processes — he doesn’t so much deduce the identity of the killer as try on various scenarios for size until he finds one that seems to him to fit — but to be honest this didn’t bother me much as I reveled in the tale.
Michael Reynolds’s translation is on the whole very good, although I winced in a couple of places. The book’s publisher, Europa, is to be congratulated on bringing us so many splendid works by authors whom we in the States might otherwise never even hear of.
If you enjoy the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, you’ll likely love Lucarelli’s Carte Blanche.