Monday 24 March 2014

Inspector De Luca - BBC Four TV review - and historical crime

Inspector De Luca is a brand new BBC Four series that began on Saturday evening with An Unauthorised Investigation. It's an Italian production, and there are four two-hour shows, based on the character created by Carlo Lucarelli and played (very well, I thought) by the likeable Alessandro Preziosi. Lucarelli is, I'm aware, a very successful novelist, but I've never read him. I was drawn to watch really by the fact that the series is set in pre-war Italy, when Mussolini reigned supreme.

This period coincides, of course, with the Golden Age of detective fiction, and although this story didn't have a Golden Age feel to it, I've become interested in learning about the politics of the 30s, and the impact that people like Mussolini had, both in their own countries, and further afield. Several Golden Age writers - E.R. Punshon, R.C.Woodthorpe and Ronald Knox among them - wrote scathingly about Il Duce, but despite (or because of) his warped ideology he exerted an influence on people like Mosley and his followers in Britain. What must it have been like to live in Italy under his rule?

Inspector De Luca left us in no doubt that this was a deeply unhealthy society, where fear made people terrified of expressing anything less than unswerving devotion to a man who, in many ways, was as ridiculous as he was dangerous. De Luca himself is not a fan of Il Duce, but he is no saint either. He is a pragmatic police officer, and he manages (more or less) to keep his scorn to himself. I found the tension created by the claustrophobic political climate to be more interesting than the plot, which concerned the discovery on a beach at Riminii of a prostitute's corpse. De Luca's investigation soon brings him into very close contact with a glamorous countess whose seducative attention he finds hard to resist. But is she herself a victim, or a culprit?

Italy is one of my favourite countries, and it's so photogenic that makes an ideal background for a series of this sort. I liked De Luca as a character, but this was a case - in my opinion - where the history was more compelling than than the mystery. At two hours, the story felt rather drawn-out. Will I watch again? Maybe, but there are a lot of crime dramas on the screen at present - a good thing, my only regret is that none of them are based on my books! - and hard choices have to be made. I've just caught up with the very different, and quite excellent, Line of Duty, and Inspector De Luca didn't have the same wow factor. But it's a well-made and well-acted show, and if you like history, or Italy, it's worth taking a look to see what you reckon to it.


Christine said...

I agree. I found it less than gripping - and the femme fatale element is so clich├ęd.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I suppose it's less than shocking that you might find the history more gripping than the story. The De Luca novels grew out of a doctoral thesis that Lucarelli never finished.

I can't speak to the series, but the De Luca novels made as brilliant use of their period as any historical crime fiction I have read. I recommend all three of them highly.
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
Detectives Beyond Borders

Todd Mason said...

This is also running in the US on the MHz Worldview network.

Martin Edwards said...

Chrissie, Todd, thanks.
Peter - thanks, I shall take a look at them.

KennethWidmerpool said...

The stories are perhaps not great and there is a good deal of rather unacceptable sexism but the question of what it means to be a policeman under fascism is very well handled. The idea that being Italy's most famous policeman, for saving Mussolini, will become a liability as liberation approaches is very well handled. An underrated series.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks KW

CousinofSparty said...

I only watched the first in the series on MHZ here in the U.S. and tend to agree with the above comments.
My favorite TV historical drama is Babylon Berlin, covering the period after WW1 in Berlin.

Is LIne of Duty recommended? Is that from Italy or Germany and covers what period?

Martin Edwards said...

Line of Duty is a very successful British TV series. I've not seen many episodes, but the ones I did watch were pretty good. Thanks for your comment, which reminds me about Inspector de Luca - I have to admit, I'd completely forgotten it. Just as well, the blog reminds me what I've watched in the past!