This translated crime novel comes from slightly warmer shores than we're used to. We swap Scandinavia for Bari, a small town in Southern Italy. The climate is different, but the quality's the same.
Carofiglio is an anti-Mafia prosecutor, himself from Southern Italy. A Walk in the Dark, brought to us by the wonderful Bitter Lemon Press, is his second novel, and also the second to feature prosecutor Guido Gurrieri. It's a series that has won Carofiglio awards and fame in his native country, and has become the basis of a sucessful television series, too.
When Guido agrees to represent Martina, a young woman from a refuge centre who accuses her husband of brutal violence against her, he knows that the case could bring his career to a premature end. For the husband in question is the son of a powerful, influential local judge. No witnesses will testify in her favour, one lawyer after another refuses to represent her, and many of his friends tell Guido how hopeless the case is, how foolish he for taking it. But he cannot resists a hopeless, and just, cause.
A Walk in the Dark is quite a short book, clocking in at just over 200 paperback pages. And it may be short, but its brevity and parsimony lend it both power and pace. Carofiglio has a great ability to tell us all we need to know and nothing more in order to convey his characters, his plot, and the legal rings likeable, endearing Gurrieri must navigate through, which he surely has great knowledge of (one would hope so, in any case!) He has a great writer's way with boiling the complex down to the simple (Grisham's main virtue), and of illustrating characters just so.
The book is both a legal thriller and a very human drama, at times very moving (especially towards the end). He handles his plot so well, and moves it along expertly, once turning the book completely upside down with an unexpected twist. It's a book of excellent balance: plot and character, personal and professional (it's more than just a legal thriller, but a book about Gurrieri, and morality), seriousness and wit. Carofiglio knows well where the heartstrings are, and often plucks them with a bitter stroke. It's richly bound in its Italian setting, too, which is nice to see. One of the joys of this new wave of crime fiction is the little windows into a different place, a different culture, and this book provides that as well if not better than most.
This is an admirable novel, just as good as Carofiglio's first. Crime fiction readers with an interest in the deeper levels the genre can plumb, as well as in being richly entertained, would do well to look here.