Characterized by gritty realism, existential struggles, institutional corruption, political instability, salacious segments and heroes frequently crushed by overwhelming opposition or vanquished by the dark finger of fate, Mediterranean Noir may from a UK perspective be considered a relatively new genre. Distinct in tone and worldview, like its Nordic counterpart, the movement places society under a microscope and critiques its failings. Comprehensively surveyed in Barry Forshaw’s forthcoming book Euro Noir, British and Irish audiences are already familiar with the genre thanks to BBC Four’s screening of the TV version of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels. In literary terms, the authors Leonardo Sciascia and Jean-Claude Izzo have an enlarging English language readership. The vast panoply of authors and TV series currently gaining recognition by a new found fanbase is enlarged thanks to Arrow Films release of Inspector De Luca a series adapted from a trilogy by one of Italy’s best known contemporary crime writers, Carlo Lucarelli.
In the introduction to the Inspector De Luca novels, Lucarelli recounts an incident from his time as a doctoral student that inspired him to write the books and forsake his academic pursuits. Conducting background research for a thesis, he interviewed a former police officer with forty years of active service who began his career in 1941 working for the fascist political police. Initially employed to monitor the activity of anti-fascist groups before arrest, the political elite was so paranoid they subsequently engaged the services of this officer to conduct surveillance on pro-fascist groups due to fears that they may be plotting to overthrow Benito Mussolini. Having conducted his duties throughout the early stages of the war without a blemish on his record he transferred into the partisan police immediately following the allies liberation of the country and served in that force for the remainder of the conflict. Following the cessation of hostilities, fresh elections were held in Italy to form a new government, in this new regime the officer was tasked with monitoring and arresting his former colleagues because they were now regarded as dangerous subversives.
Coupling his personal fascination with the latter stages of Italy’s fascist regime and the testimony given during the interview with this former officer, Lucarelli considered how an individual could be so wedded to the concept of policing he would carry out instructions without question irrespective of the political implications or any sense of discontinuity at having to arrest individuals (sometimes former colleagues) for engaging in activities which were previously lawful. Spurred on by the fertile territory he had inadvertently stumbled upon Lucarelli abandoned his thesis and wrote the Inspector De Luca trilogy; Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche.
Produced in 2008, the TV adaptation adds a prologue episode set in 1938 to introduce De Luca, his point of view, working methods, relationship to superior officers and demonstrate how ordinary citizens were affected by the ever-present struggle between fascism and the leftist groups who sought to topple the regime. Across ten years, in four episodes, De Luca’s pursuit of truth and justice across Bologna and the Adriatic coast frequently places him in trouble with whoever happens to be ruling at that moment. Steadfastly refusing to bend to suit the will of those seeking to quell an investigation, he dogmatically pursues a case despite incidents when it might be more prudent to take a less direct approach or to withdraw. First and foremost a police officer, De Luca is not a political realist or an apologist for any cause, for him the law is all that matters and he has a sworn duty to uphold it no matter what the personal cost may be.
The addition of an original introductory episode to complement the three adapted from Lucarelli’s novels creates a balance in terms of the series’ structure. Translating the novelist’s work to screen with due respect for the source material, the creative team have masterfully brought to life a well-written trilogy with such insight and reverence it is impossible to detect a stylistic shift in the “new” prelude. The first two episodes are set during Mussolini’s reign and the subsequent installments take place in a period when recriminations sat alongside reconstruction. Throughout one of the most tumultuous periods in modern European history the geographical, economic, social, and political turmoil is integral to communicating the series’ fictional milieux. The core theme of justice needing to be maintained in difficult times ensures that despite being a period drama, the series’ central message resonates.
In the newly written opener, An Unauthorized Investigation, the body of a sex worker is found washed up on the beach close to Mussolini’s summer home. Fearful of the consequences should the leader’s holiday be disturbed, the authorities demand that the case is solved swiftly. De Luca’s methods clash with his superiors when he starts investigating some of Mussolini’s acquaintances.
The second episode, based on the first book, Carte Blance, sees De Luca fall under the watchful eye of the fascist elite when he is placed in charge of trying to apprehend the murderer of a wealthy bachelor. At this stage in the war, the Italian government was co-operating with Nazis and the palpable paranoia felt throughout this edition is accentuated as it becomes apparent that allied forces may storm the area at any moment.
A dramatic change in tone throughout The Damned Season and its follow-up Via Della Oche demonstrates De Luca’s descent from trusted public official to despised collaborationist who must pose as a partisan. Unable to stand down from his duty, De Luca’s stubborn refusal to bend with the wind and seek an alternate lifestyle is no longer a virtue.
A turbulent era is brought to life with brio in a series blessed with intricately researched historical detail, sympathetic cinematography, and scripts that elevate the admittedly excellent source material to the level of near greatness. Recommended.