The Damned Season is the second book in Lucarelli’s De Luca trilogy set at the end of the second world war in Italy. Former Commissario De Luca, a leading investigative detective in the fascist regime and now a wanted man, is heading south from Milan trying to sneak through partisan country towards Rome. Exhausted and hungry he’s discovered resting by a young cop – Brigadier Leonardi – who’s learning his trade in a rural area where official law is still loosely applied in the post-Mussolini period. Leonardi immediately recognises De Luca as a detective who’d lectured on his training course, but rather than hand him over to the authorities he decides that De Luca could give him valuable one-on-one training, and he has a horrific case that needs solving – Delmo, a local peasant, and his family have been tortured and killed. De Luca reluctantly agrees but soon all the locals are wondering who this stranger in their mist is, not least Carnera, the local partisan leader.
I have pretty much the same issues with the second book in the series as I did with the first, Carte Blanche (reviewed here). I think Lucarelli is a wonderful writer – I love his style and the way the story is told, but the book is simply too thin for me and the story underdeveloped (the book is less than 100 pages long). What I wanted as a reader was the story fleshed out to give more insight into De Luca’s flight and the back story of the area and some of the locals, particularly the various victims and the partisans. As it stands, Lucarelli has pared it back as about as far as it’ll go to tell a relatively complex story. It almost feels like an extended synopsis rather than a dense novella. In addition, the story wasn’t as compelling as the first book, particularly as the ending was so flimsily resolved (they’re looking for a needle in a haystack and they find it straightaway). So at one level, I really admired the writing, but at another I was left a little frustrated. Like the first book, I’m left with the sense that what is an okay novella could have been a minor masterpiece if extended and deepened. That said, I'm compelled to read the final installment to the trilogy.