Head of Vice
And so our sojourn in mid-century Italy, and its volatile political background,comes to a somewhat indeterminate end with the final Inspector De Luca of four. ‘Via Delle Oche’ adapts the final book of Carlo Lucarelli’s trilogy, in which the theme appears to be that of return, albeit a temporary one. It’s full of old faces, returning characters and the dispersal of people that accompanies the end of an era.
The final story is set in April 1948, almost four years after ‘The Damned Season’. There’s no explanation of what happened to De Luca after his arrest and return to Bologna last week (Lucarelli avoids this in the book, I am given to understand), although it becomes clear that he managed to convince the authorities of the time that he had nothing to do with the shooting of the partisan at the roadblock (or perhaps more accurately, that there was no evidence that he was involved). But De Luca has only just been allowed to rejoin Democratic Italy’s revised Police Force, but only to act as Head of Bologna’s Vice Squad.
How that might have worked out is debatable, but the first person De Luca meets at HQ is good old faithful Pugliese, Watson to his Holmes. Pugliese’s on his way out to a murder and wants the Inspector’s expertise, and anyway it’s appropriate: the man’s died in a brothel, after all.
Perhaps I should point out that at this time, and in Bologna at least, prostitution is legal, albeit under strictly-defined rules. As Head of Vice, De Luca’s role is going to be that of Regulator rather than Investigator, a virtually civil post, not criminal. He’s there, as his Deputy Chief, Dambrogio, points out, to make sure decent citizens don’t get the clap.
However, De Luca is De Luca. He hasn’t changed from the start, and certainly not physically: ten years pass between ‘Unauthorised Investigation’ and ‘Via Delle Oche’ but Achille De Luca looks the same (except for his suit, which, with loving detail, is considerably more shabby in post-War Italy than under the serenity of Il Duce). The dead man is found hanged, which has Pugliese ready to write it off as suicide, until De Luca reconstructs the scene, demonstrating that the dead man is too short to reach down to the stool he supposedly kicked away – or did he leap upwards tp thrust his head through the noose?
That’s one characteristic about this final story: it’s full of absurdities and sly quips that had me constantly giggling throughout. Most of these come from poor, put-upon Pugliese, married, about to be a father, devoted to his Inspector but as always wishing to go with the flow and not cause trouble with his superiors. Who are not like De Luca at all.
Because it’s the same old story: the Police aren’t supposed to investigate certain crimes, certain people. Deputy Chief Dambrogio, a committed Christian Democrat, a hater of the Communists, overrules Pugliese and declares the death a suicide. De Luca, in the face of such opposition, and from a position of vulnerability, refuses to let go.
It’s a fraught time: in four days, Democratic Italy will hold its first post-War Elections. Tension is high. The country is afraid of Revolution. Propaganda is everywhere. Christian Democrats or Communists? God or Stalin? Overendelli, respected leader of a more or less Fascist party, has died. A lot of dirty stuff is going on. Dambrogio is blatantly CD. There are more familiar faces than Pugliese: the Flying Squad includes Guido Leonardi from Sant’Alberto, now a proper Policeman and grateful to De Luca for his mentorship, but still a Communist.
De Luca still doesn’t care. He believes in the Law, and the chance after so many years to serve it one more has re-energised him. Not only is this a slyly funny episode throughout, but Alessandro Preziosi pitches De Luca at a more upbeat level than before. There is no weariness, no vestige of De Luca’s previous reluctance at the battle, he’s out to solve this murder (and the other deaths that follow in its wake), and there’s an almost recklessness to him when, having pieced everything together, he takes his report to the new, post-Election Chief, identifying Dambrogio as an essential part of the cover-up.
Unfortunately for the non-existence of truth and justice in mid-Century Italy, the Christian Democrats have comfortably won the Election, Leonardi is already on hisway out of the Police, aiming at politics himself, and the new Chief is Dambrogio.
It’s here that the episode seems to go off the rails. Dambrogio threatens De Luca with the reopening of his case, three years ago: Rasetto is to go on trial and new evidence might ‘appear’. We jump forward three months: Pugliese’s daughter has been born, it’s her Christening, De Luca, all smiles, attends but the photo is interrupted by a call to defend the city against riots: a communist leader has been shot in Parliament, revolution is feared. De Luca manages to beat the crowd to the Fascist HQ, where the late Overendelli’s successor is burning photos – the photos that might have proved De Luca’s case, even now. That De Luca is playing such a role suggests that he has played along.
But that does not seem to be enough. Pugliese has been posted back South, after ten years, and is taking Graziella and Angela home: it’s the last time he will see De Luca again. Rasetto’s hearings start today: rather than lay completely low, De Luca has asked to be heard. Whatever happens, he will no longer be a Policeman after this…
There’s one more old face to factor in now, one that I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning before now, despite her being deeply involved in the cover up of the four murders. She and De Luca have clashed throughout. She’s been rude, uncaring, aggressive and seductive, drawing De Luca back into bed with her for the statutory sexual encounter of each episode, although this one is more freighted with meaning than the last couple of weeks. Fortune-teller turned brothel-keeper, and of course whore in her own right, Valeria Suvich is once again face to face with De Luca.
And despite the intense anger the two arouse in each other, despite the brutality he has twice now exerted over her to get the information he needs, Valeria has come to De Luca before he attends his ‘trial’ that we all know will end his career as an investigator and servant of a Law that has allowed itself to become too corrupted to deserve his faithfulness, simply to be there. There’s a hint that, once they are no longer forced to be on different sides, the pair may actually suit each other: having screwed her passionately several times, De Luca asks her out on a dinner date.
But it’s all left to the viewer’s imagination, as is right and proper. A thousand endings may thus be conjured up, at no time or expense, though I’m bound to say that, despite enjoying this series over the last four weeks (and for more reasons than it not being Salamander), I end up feeling like I know far too little about Achille De Luca to even speculate as to what may happen after the final shot.
The series, like the books, has chosen to focus almost exclusively upon De Luca the cop. When he is not in pursuit of the truth, in the face of any kind of institution that wants to protect its people from punishment, we have learned surprisingly little about him. He likes coffee, and he’ll shag the most improbable of women. But that’s it. No outside interests, no family, no background, not even where in Italy he’s from. That side of thing has not been helped by Preziosi’s determined underplaying of the character: even at his most forthright and active this week, nothing has been given away. I can’t imagine where De Luca might go from here because I have no idea where he’s already been.
Still, I’ve been interested in where he’s gone when we’ve travelled together, and the recreation of this period in Italy’s affairs has been worth the time for me.So, whatever you did end up doing, Achille De Luca, and whether you and Valeria got anything going, I wish you well of it. Though I don’t think it’s going to do you any good nt having murders to solve.
Next week, the Eurocrime slot rolls forward to, er, Wales, with the (I hope) English language version of a series titled Hinterland, which has been a co-production with S4C, and shown in the Welsh language on that Channel last year. It’s apparently somewhat Scandi-influenced, which can only be to the good, but we’ll talk about episode 1 of that next Sunday, ok?