book: Carte Blanche (1990/2006) by Carlo Lucarelli


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.


13 thoughts on “book: Carte Blanche (1990/2006) by Carlo Lucarelli

  1. Nice that Italian stuff is being translated … The TV version, shown as the second episode of the COMISSARIO DE LUCA series (I think ti is called DETECTIVE DE LUCA in the US) is pretty good actually but the show only lasted one season as it just adapted the original trilogy of novels, with a new story added as a prologue to kick the series off. Lucarelli was involved throughout.

    • I’m rotten about TV, so hadn’t heard of the series. It is indeed called Detective De Luca over here, and I now have the DVD set on order from the library — many thanks for the tip!

        • We got the series on DVD from the library, and have now watched all four: thanks for the recommendation!

          What’s embarrassing is that, summing up our views this evening, both of us agreed we liked the first movie the best — the one that isn’t based on a Lucarelli novel. (“And not just because of Kasia Smutniak’s bottom,” I had to explain earnestly to Pam.)

          We also both really liked #3, because it wasn’t a story where we had to understand 1940s Italian politics (we had real difficulty in this respect with #4, which is probably why we liked it the least).

          Overall, we got fed up with the formulaic way that De Luca had a sex scene in each of the movies with some babe who seems a lot younger than he is. In the solitary De Luca novel I’ve read (I have the other two waiting on my nightstand until I sufficiently forget the movies!), this works far better than it did on screen.

    • I meant to say that the other great thing about #3 for Pam and I was that the story was essentially a GAD-style murder mystery: it was there to be solved, and in fact (puffs chest) I did so about three nanoseconds before De Luca did.

  2. I have had this (and the 2nd one) on my shelves for almost eight years. With this very favorable review I should read it soon. Per my cataloging software, book two has 128 pages, only a bit longer than book 2.

    • As I recall, the third one is pretty short too. I’m in fact trying to restrict myself to longer books at the moment — I’m on a horrifically tight deadline for the current masterpiece, so am aiming to cut down on the time I spend writing up the books I’ve read! — but the first De Luca one just sort of snuck in.

  3. I’ve taken note of CARTE BLANCHE, which is about a subject I normally am mesmerized with and about. Fantastic book review here John!

    • I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it. I was about to say you could read it in an evening — it’s pretty short — but since when did you ever have an evening to spare? 🙂

  4. Thanks for recommending this one; I enjoyed it and look forward to the next two. My grandparents left Italy for the US just before Mussolini came to power and my grandfather was very bitter about him. He lost his twin brother in combat during WWI and came to this country with a worm’s eye view of politicians and the zealots they attract. In the US, he was totally apolitical, supported a family, walking to work every day and made wooden caskets until retiring at age 72. He was a master woodworker, but couldn’t get in the union when he came to the US, so the company he worked for, owned by Italians, employed him doing work he could probably do in his sleep. I can only imagine the chaos he left and the bleak prospects he met when he arrived in his new country. But he sucked it up and made the best of it. He would have encountered all sorts of people and organizations making promises and telling him that he could escape being a victim if only he agreed with and voted for them. He made his own way, however, voted for the lesser scoundrel in all the elections and led two lives: his body and his earthly best efforts in the US and his heart, soul and spirit in Italy. He returned to Italy once in the 1950s and although he could have revisited or returned for good, he never did and chose to remain here and died at the age of 93. Italy, of course, in perhaps some ways very important to him, would not have been the same country he left in 1920. For the last three years of his life, he would occasionally address me as “Paulo”, his lost twin brother. He seemed very happy living back there and I was happy for him.

    • What a fascinating reminiscence — many thanks for it. I guess there must have been many emigres from Italy (and indeed other parts of Europe) who found themselves in the same sort of dilemma as your grandpa.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Carte Blanche as much as I did. I now have the other two sitting on my nightstand, and am looking forward to getting to them.

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