Inspector De Luca, a policeman in Fascist Italy comes to BBC4

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Book Awards, Historical, Italy, notes, Off Topic, tv crime fiction

italiangreatwar0101-28-~3 (2)06-21-~1 (2)lucarelliThe quality of many of the sub-titled crime/political series that BBC4 have shown in their Saturday night slot has been very high. Spiral [France], The Killing [Denmark], The Bridge [Sweden/Denmark], Borgen [Denmark], Montalbano and Young Montalbano [Italy] have set a high standard not least for the amount of interesting and very attractive female characters.

The sub-titled series that has just finished on Saturday was called Salamander. It was Belgian and despite some good camera work showing Brussels and the countryside, it could never quite get over the handicap of being Belgian. Poor Hercule Poirot must be spinning in his grave to discover his birth country was being run by a sleazy clique, whose solid financial foundations were started by stealing money sent by the British to Brussels. But enough about the EU. Salamander had an identity problem as the plot didn’t quite know whether it was meant to be a police procedural or political thriller with a back story set during WWII. And I would suggest the average British village bobby takes more precautions going into a pub on a Friday night, than apparently the Brussels police do when dealing with murderous conspirators.

I am not one of those who thinks that translated crime fiction and  sub-titled TV is somehow superior. In fact I am concerned that the insistence on publishing both second level crime novels and any old TV series simply because they are foreign and trendy is a grave mistake. British home grown TV can come up with outstanding crime fiction series such as the currently running Line of Duty on BBC2, and last year’s Mayday [BBC], Southcliffe [Channel4] and Broadchurch [ITV].  

But the new BBC4 sub-titled series starting next weekend is Inspector De Luca and I am fairly sure that if this series is anything like the books written by Carlo Lucarelli it will be dramatic and educational TV. The De Luca books are set in the period around the end of WWII, beginning when Italy was occupied in the South by the Allies and in the North by the Germans and their Italian Fascist allies. Benito Mussolini briefly ruling a German puppet state called the Republic of Salo before meeting a just end at the hands of Italian partisans.

I understand the TV series starts earlier in 1938 when Italian Fascism was still a major force in European politics. Incidentally I have two books on my TBR pile from another series set in Italy during those Fascist years, the Commissario Ricciardi novels by Maurizio De Giovanni. [more on this series soon]

How do honest people police a country when the people who make the laws are bigger criminals than those who break the law? [I got that one from Bernie Gunther courtesy of his creator Philip Kerr]

The Great War was the most influential event of the 20th century because it lead to the fall of four defeated empires Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman, and also the grave weakening of the two victorious empires the British and French. But another victor country, Italy suffered a terrible fate and fell into a long dark age that lasted from 1922-1945. 

What happened to Italy after her “victory” in the Great War?

Italy in spite of signing the 1882 Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary had in 1915 joined the conflict in alliance with Britain and France. The Italian army attacked Austria in the Alps and along the Isonzo River, and was shattered by the terrible blood bath most of it caused by the sheer incompetence and cruelty of their commanders. But the war not only caused great loss of life it also discredited Italy’s democratic institutions and lead to their overthrow by Benito Mussolini, and the creation of the world’s first fascist state. For an account of the Italian campaign I can recommend The White War, Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919* by Mark Thompson; it won the prestigious Hessel-Tiltman Prize for History in 2009, and goes some way to explain why Mussolini was able to seize power. 

My reviews of the De Luca series: 

I reviewed Carte Blanche the first in the trilogy here
The second The Damned Season I reviewed here.
The last book in the trilogy, Via Del Oche.
*Some of the most iconic figures of the 20th century were involved in that Italian Campaign- ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway, stretcher-bearer Angelo Roncalli later Pope John XXIII, Erwin Rommel, Benito Mussolini, and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.   
  1. TracyK says:

    Very interesting. I have the first two books in this series (not read yet), so I better get started on them so I can enjoy that series if it is good… and when it is available here.

    I must have known this series of books was historical fiction (since I cataloged them under that genre), but I had forgotten. Even more reason to get to those books. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. booketta says:

    I’m looking forward to this series. I wasn’t a fan of Montalbano although the OH watched it through to the end.

  3. kathy d. says:

    Hmmm, I still can’t figure out how a decent person can be a police officer under not only a criminal, but a fascist anti-human regime – i.e., one that is carrying out its own brutal repression and helping Germany execute Jews, partisans, other political opponents, etc. What does this character do? Hide out every time he is given a horrendous order? Or defy them? Ignore the deportation of Jewish people to meet their deaths? Turn away at other atrocities? I can’t understand how this is possible.

    Also, a great movie about a person of conscience is Christ Stopped at Eboli. It’s Carlo Levi’s own story about being exiled to a remote part of Italy because he opposed Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.

    Interesting, but terrible revelations arise in The Collini Case about Germany’s murders in Italy during WWII.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Thanks TraceyK, booketta and Kathy. The books are very short and an easy read.

    Kathy, I agree with you but I suppose someone has to deal with “ordinary” criminals under these sorts of regimes. What do people do when their government turns rogue? An unarmed population is at their mercy.

    Many years ago I read some of the St Cyr and Kohler mysteries, by J.Robert Janes, police procedurals set in Nazi-Occupied France in which a French and German police officer co-operate. The war lasted 5 years but this series is still going along over 20 years since the first book was published.

    There is an author’s note that tries to deal with your questions.

    “I do not condone what happened during those times; I abhor it. But during the Occupation of France the everyday common crimes of murder, arson, and the like continued to be committed, and I merely ask by whom and how they were solved.”

  5. kathy d. says:

    How does anyone separate that out, “regular” crimes like domestic violence, robbery, and then an order to “go round up that Jewish family,” deport those Roma,” “arrest those partisans.”

    How do a German cop and French cop get along? Is the French cop part of Petain’s government, which helped the Germans out with their pogrom against Jews and Resistance fighters? I couldn’t drink a cup of coffee with a fascist, more or less turn away from the atrocities.

    I read a review of one book in this or another series set in fascist Italy that one police officer would overhear a colleague of us deal with deportations of Jews. How does one just hear that and do nothing? Just go along and work alongside those people? Go along to get along as is said here? Some things are too despicable to put up with or ignore. And what about doing the right thing and helping the victims? They would not do that, not these policemen.

    It’s an enigma to me.

  6. kathy d. says:

    OK, Norman, I may cave in and purchase the dvd set of these exact episodes. MHZ, which could mean the downfall of my budget — has this set and so many more. For $43, including shipping, I can see for myself how this goes on. Perhaps if friends are interested, I’ll get it.

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