The town of Bologna has given rise to another crime writer, one who brings a journalistic rigour to his fiction. This is Carlo Lucarelli, the most successful and high-profile author of Italian noir, is famous as the star of a TV show where he casts himself as a lead investigator of real crimes. He aims to combine in his writing the best of investigative journalism, history and fiction. Nowhere is this extraordinary methodology more evident than in his researches into a serial killer for his best-selling novel Almost Blue.
“I went to a psychiatrist,” he says, “and told him: ‘suppose that my character were sitting here, his name is Alessio Crotti, he comes from Cadoneghe in the Padua province…’ That place has nothing to do with the serial killer, but I once went there to present a book and got lost… I wanted to punish the place by making it the birthplace of my serial killer. ‘He hears bells ring and kills people. Why?’
“And we carried out a real psychiatric test on a fictional character. The psychiatrist began by asking, ‘Where does he come from?’ ‘Cadoneghe.’ ‘What kind of place is it?’ ‘Who are his parents?’ And this gave life and a voice to my serial killer.”
Sometimes my shadow is darker than other people's. I’ve seen it sometimes when I am walking along the street. It stains the wall alongside me… Sometimes I get scared that someone will notice it but I can’t run away from it because it would follow me. It would spread out, sticky and black, alongside me. That’s why I stay close to the wall.
The reader is inside a psychotic mind. That is more important than in the world we see of some other Italian crime writers, that informs everything. Everything is paranoid, everything is strange, schizophrenic and disturbing. It is the first Italian crime novel (says Maxim Jakubowski) that perfectly integrated the best of English and American hard-boiled noir elements and brought them to life in an Italian context.
Lucarelli also impressively researched Italian history of the Fascist era for Carte Blanche, set in the final months of that regime. He was frustrated by his country’s inability to investigate the Mussolini period. “It is where you find the roots of the many contradictions and problems we have today,” says Lucarelli. “The failure to overcome fascism, what happened after the end of the Second World War, a number of important things…”
He tracked down a former policeman who had served in the Fascist period. “I went to interview a policeman,” he says. “He had been a member of the political police from 1941 to 1981, forty years. I remember how he told me that at the beginning, he was a member of Mussolini’s political police, and he used to arrest anti-fascists and communists.” What shocked Lucarelli was that this Fascist officer had been allowed to continue as a policeman in the post-war Italian democracy.
“You, a Fascist, in the police force? ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I was a good policeman, there was a need for social order…’ He found himself arresting the fascists who had been his previous employers.”
These interviews would form the basis of the character of Commissioner De Luca in Carte Blanche, who would go on to feature in a further two novels, to form a period crime trilogy. “I felt,” says Lucarelli, “that De Luca with all his contradictions is on the one hand a good person, a policeman, a detective, the man who, in the crime novel, will lead us to the truth. Yet at the same time he is also the instrument of dictatorships and so on. So he is a man full of contradictions who can live through Italian history and tell us about the contradictions of each period. This is why I have kept him alive for three novels and why I am now thinking of a fourth.”
By tackling Italy’s painful history, and embracing the lack of any certain resolution, Lucarelli can trace his methods back to the roots of Italian noir. He identifies in his fellow writers a shared commitment to write more than just simple crime stories. “We belong to a literary style that prefers to tell a story rather than describe a scene. Our detectives are all characters who see what is happening in society and suffer. They understand that there is nothing they can do about it and this brings a state of despair.”
This is the authentic voice of Italian noir.
[From BBC Four’s Italian Noir – The Story of Italian Crime Fiction.]