A few years ago I read Carlo Lucarelli’s Almost Blue, a sparsely written piece of Italian noir that I very much enjoyed. Carte Blanche, the first ion the trilogy of novels involving Detective De Luca, which brought Lucarelli to public notice in the early 1990s.
Similarly, Carte Blanche is a slim volume, perhaps more of novella than a novel. The investigation around the murder of a drug dealer is straightforward enough. It is the context of the story that is far more complex.
The story is set in the closing days of the Second World War in Italy, as the Allies advance and the Fascist Government crumbles. De Luca is a professional policeman, but as such has become associated with the fascist regime and is life is consequently now in danger. Yet De Luca is no fascist; he is a policeman, a civil servant who (perhaps impossibly) attempts to rise above politics. He is completely dedicated to upholding and an abstract notion of justice, irrespective of which political faction may be in power. De Luca may be naive and idealistic in his attempts to remain above politics, but it is this that enables Lucarelli to ask fundamental questions about the role of the police in society. Can the forces of law and order ever be apolitical? How can one be a good policeman, indeed any policeman, under an oppressive regime? Indeed can there ever be justice under a fundamentally unjust regime and political system? Like all flawed characters, De Luca struggles to be a good man operating in an unjust society.
Lucarelli formulated the idea for the De Luca novels after meeting a retired policeman who had served during fascism as well as after the war. In some ways Lucarelli paints a rather pessimistic view of society – one in which politics and people are fickle and justice is equally so. And yet De Luca’s idealism, as unrealistic and unachievable as it may be, about being a policeman capable of rising above the political maelstrom, is both encouraging and optimistic.
This is a short, but engaging book and I am looking forward to reading the remaining novels in the trilogy.
I should also mention that Europa Editions, who publish this, have done a magnificent job in producing a very handsome and well-designed paperback volume.