I enjoy history books of all types, and of course I am a crime fiction addict.With Carlo Lucarelli's Carte Blanche I get a double helping of what I like, and it has left me wanting more of Commissario De Luca.
Carlo Lucarelli was collecting material for a thesis entitled "The Vision of the Police in the Memories of Anti-Fascists" when he met a character who had been a policeman during the period of turmoil around the end of the Second World War.
From this meeting and the subsequent stories of time in the fascist political police, partisan police, Republican police and just the police, he invented Commisario De Luca. I remember a similar story concerning the American author David Liss his work for a thesis on 18th century finance, and the creation of his pugilistic detective Benjamin Weaver.
Neither thesis ever got written.
Carte Blanche, the first book in the De Luca trilogy, is set in April 1945 in that part of Northern Italy still controlled by the Germans and their Italian fascist allies. Italy at that time was a battle ground because when the Anglo-American forces landed in Sicily in 1943 the fascist regime fell, and Mussolini was arrested.
The new government broke the alliance with Hitler [the Rome -Berlin Axis], and on September 8 joined the Allies. The Germans rushed in to occupy that part of the country not yet liberated by the Anglo-American forces. Otto Skorzeny and a special forces unit rescued Mussolini, and put him in charge of a collaborationist government.
It was a time of utter turmoil, where for instance in Milan there were 16 seperate police forces, ranging from the "Questura" to the Gestapo.
Commissario De Luca has been transferred back to the police from the fascist political police to investigate the murder of Vittorio Rehinard. Rehinard is a handsome playboy, drug dealer and low life, but predictably he has been involved with some important people in the regime. De Luca thinks he will be told to forget the case because of the VIP's involved and the way Rehinard was killed, but one political faction in the government wishes to use the case to bring down Count Tedesco, the Foreign Minister.
"This is unacceptable!" he cried slamming his fist down on the desk. "I am a personal friend of Il Duce and I deserve some respect!"
There are many suspects including the young blond Sonia Tedesco, daughter of the Count, Silvia Alfieri, wife of another government minister, and the enigmatic redhaired beauty Valeria Suvich.
One does not have to be clairvoyant to know the difficulties and dangers De Luca will face in an atmosphere of decay, violence, and the collapse of a corrupt regime. Each of the factions are trying to maintain their standing, while moving to position themselves and to ingratiate themselves with the future new regime of the advancing Anglo-Americans*.
This is an excellent fast moving police procedural with a difference, it was too short at just over 100 pages and left this reader like Oliver Twist wanting more.
Today we think of Fascist Italy as a joke because of Mussolini's idiotic strutting, and the total failure of his military in Greece and North Africa. But it was no joke for those who lived under the regime.
Benito Mussolini and the fascists took power in October 1922. For twenty years, the regime consolidated itself into a ferocious dictatorship that suspended political and civil liberties,dissolved political parties and newspapers, persecuted opponents and put practically all of Italy in military uniform in imitation of Nazi Germany.
De Luca bit his lip, cupping his chin with his hand. He sighed thinking of the Gestapo, the Chief, the Federale........
* The Allied forces in Italy were a very cosmopolitan force and included Free French Algerians, Canadians, Poles and New Zealanders among others. I have used the expression Anglo-Americans for brevity.