Saturday Eurocrime: Inspector De Luca 3


De Luca and Pugliese in ‘better’ times

This series is getting increasingly fascinating.

I’ve been doing a little research (about time, I hear some of you say) in to Inspector De Luca novels. They are a trilogy, of which this latest offering – The Damned Season, a title which means absolutely nothing in the context of the story, nor in itself (no, it’s not a sequel to David Peace’s novel about Brian Clough at Leeds) and which elsewhere has been more sensibly translated as Cloudy Summer – is the middle episode. The first film in this series was another novel by Carlo Lucarelli, which was adapted to star De Luca.

And what little I’ve been able to discover about The Damned Season suggests a very free hand has been taken in the adaptation of the novel to the screen, and potentially in the adaptation of Achille De Luca himself from the page.

But that’s as may be, unless and until I go reading the books. This week’s drama follows on from Carte Blanche. Two months have gone by, the War is over, the English Army occupies Italy in a good-humoured way, and the Italians are settling into the after-War period in their various manners. On the one hand, the (generally) older people are looking to a future that restores prosperity, on the other the partisans – primarily communist and socialist – are still revenging themselves upon fascisti, which appears to be directing their energies away from their own entrance into the political sphere.

De Luca is still on the run, stigmatised as a fascist, still with Rassetto’s bunch, though not for long. An attempt to leave the area ends disastrously at a roadblock, which probably does for Rassetto, and which leaves De Luca running on his own, having abandoned his gun. His forged papers show him to be Giovanni Morendi, an Engineer heading for Ferrara to look for work.

Unfortunately, ‘the best policeman in Italy’, Il Duce’s saviour, is too well known. On arrival in Sant’Alberta, in the Appennines, he is recognised by the former partisan, Guido Leonardi. But Leonardi is now himself the policeman, an untrained, inexperienced, not entirely convinced policeman with a murder on his hands, that of Delmo, a much-loved elder of the village, whose death has disturbed everyone. If the Engineer will help him find the killer(s), Leonardi will not expose De Luca, and will let him move on.

Already, there are certain things to be expected from an Inspector De Luca story. The first of these is the woman he will sleep with. This is Francesca, daughter of the lady who keeps the inn. Francesca is an independent spirit, forever declaring that she does what she wants, in the way of someone who is out to convince themselves first. Nevertheless, it is she who screws De Luca, rather than the other way round, jumping him one night when he’s drunk to hell on red wine, after an evening in the bar doing his usual silent stuff among people who, if they knew his secret, would probably not wait to turn him in but kill him in brutal anger.

Francesca, played by Ana Caterina Morariu, has a modern, fresh-looking short hair-style. That’s because she used to sleep with a German soldier, and the local chief partisan, Carnera, a man for whom the War is going to be very difficult to get out of the system, shaved her head as a collaborator. Screwing De Luca, it seems, was as much, if not more, a ‘fuck-you’ gesture since she is quick to spill the beans – and Sant’Alberta is a place where adultery is a serious matter.

Then there’s a Count. This one, Zibecci by name, isn’t the usual arrogant, self-centred, above-the-law bastard, although he may well have been for all we know. The Count is dead, killed by Carnera a couple of days ago, the day before Delmo, as it happens. Everyone knows Carnera killed him, and no-one cares, but why is Carnera being so secretive about the exact circumstances, keeping his comrades out of it? There’s also a missing English officer, we learn in passing.

But the most familiar one of all is this: De Luca is to investigate the crime, to find the killers of this much-loved man, the men all want to see brought to justice, or at least the busaness end of a partisan’s rifle. But there are those who cannot be questioned. It’s still the same as it always was, only the faces change. It’s not the Counts and the high fascisti who cannot be questioned, cannot be pursued, cannot even be asked if they had any part to play in someone’s death. Now it’s the partisans, the heroes, those who threw off the fascist yoke, who are still hunting and killing fascists with great relish.

But De Luca is De Luca. Even when he can’t ask the questions, has no authority nor assistants, lives in fear of being exposed, he’s still the policeman. Slowly, pushing Leonardi in front of him, teaching him not only the fundanental principles of detection but, more importantly, the passion for justice, the need to do the right thing, everything spills out. The killer is not only identified but arrested, not given over to Carnera to be murdered. Carnera himself falls, not for killing the Count but for killing the English Lieutenant, who had had the misfortune to be in bed with the Count the night Carnera called.

It’s too late though for De Luca, identified as being at the road block, badly beaten by Carnera. Leonardi had handed him back Morandi’s papers, was going to free him, but it’s too late. A Policeman is sent from Bologna to collect him: naturally, it is dear old Pugliese: embarrassed at arresting his old boss, more so by De Luca’s insistence upon the law, upon being put in chains. Back to Bologna, to the third and last of the books and the last of the series.

As I’ve already said, what fascinates about Inspector De Luca is its setting, its time in the world. A world of ruination, but a world already setting itself to recover, by whatever means it can. A world divided by sharp political lines: those erased by war not yet supplanted by those to be drawn by opposing expectations. De Luca, in his adherence to only being a policeman, is an alien. Preziosi’s performance this week subtly emphasises that De Luca is, and can, only be fully engaged when he has an investigation to run. At all other times, he might as well be a part of the background, except that nowhere is he allowed to be in the background.

I’m eager, now, for the final instalment, which I can see going any way as to De Luca’s future.

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