Weighing in at under 92 pages (there is a blank page after chapters that end on a right), Carte Blanche (Europa Editions, 2006) is a “quick read” in the literal sense of the word. It is an intense and convincing novel about the mess that was Italy in the last phase of the Second World War, after the Allied invasion of Sicily but before the North and Mussolini had given up. The background to the novel is the plethora of confusing yet deadly coalitions of political alliances, military factions (German as well as Italian SS) and others, all desperate to keep in with the ruling elite yet positioning themselves for a post-war future.
Into this melee comes Comissario De Luca, who has managed to leave the army with his life and career intact and who is now in the police, a job he enjoys and in which he intends to survive. He is asked to investigate the murder of a man who has been found stabbed in his apartment. As expected from the brevity of this book, the action speeds ahead, as De Luca tracks down the many visitors received by the dead man, as well as the “servants” (porter, his wife, the cleaner) who may be useful witnesses. He finds himself strangely encouraged in his investigation by his boss, rather than being told (as expected) to cover up the murder. Soon, the reasoning becomes apparent.
Carte Blanche is a very readable book, a complete tale despite its length. It’s pretty cynical about the Allies as well as everybody else – not least De Luca himself in his lack of ethics in his interrogations of females. The black setting is so convincing that it is hard to believe the author was not there. This is the first novel of a trilogy, the second two titles being The Damned Season and Villa del Oche. The author has also written another series, set in Bologna, about Ispettore Grazia Negro – Lupo Manarro (not translated), Almost Blue, Day after Day and Un giorno dopo l’altro (not translated).
Read other reviews of Carte Blanche by: Karen Meek at Euro Crime and by Norman Price at Crime Scraps. The Crime Scraps blog specialises in Italian crime fiction and you’ll find many an interesting post about Lucarelli and other Italian authors by browsing its archives.
I purchased my copy of this novel via Amazon marketplace. I did not pay the cover price of $14.95 or £8.99. I appreciate that for a publisher a short book is not that much cheaper to produce than a long one, but for 92 pages I think the stated cover price too high.