on 14 July 2005
Apulia is hailed as the new Tuscany. This region, where I come from, is the heel of the Italian boot. We have a long tradition of writers, musicians etc but Carofiglio is the real McCoy. His books are beautufully written with a mix of irony, suspense and mystery. It reminded me of Dibdin (perhaps because of the setting) but Carofiglio is more gritty. Carofiglio himself is an excellent CPS and his legal background is obvious in his novels. If you want your hero to be a lawyer with a penchant for food, Dire Straits, occasional sex and on the mend from a broken heart... here is your book!
Guido Guerrieri's marriage is on the rocks and he's a corrupt lawyer, representing people whom he despises for the money. From the Sartre-like pit of existential despair when it all goes wrong, Guerrieri's life begins to turn around when he is finessed into taking on the defence of a Sengalese man, a beach-peddler accused of murdering a small boy. The "Mockingbird" court case plays out in parallel with Guerrieri's spiritual rehabilitation and redemption.
I loved this fast-paced and compelling story. Not only for all the above reasons, but because of its sense of place. I've written before about placeism, and in that context of how John Grisham, although usually weak on plot, excels at conveying it. Carofiglio's Bari is in the same mould --- the details of life in this small Italian town illuminate the eternal dramatic themes. And it is good on plot, too.
This is a perfect miniature of a book --much shorter than Grisham, and all the better for it.
on 23 September 2011
Well, perhaps we should start with what this book isn't: it isn't a crime thriller, it has no conceivable connection with either John Grisham or Twelve Angry Men, and whoever described it as 'a cracking courtroom drama' is very easily pleased.
What it is is a very self-indulgent meander through the ups and downs of depression with a side plot on the same about alcoholism. Because the protagonist happens to be a lawyer, and because the last section contains an almost unreadably boring defence speech, it has been labelled by some reviewers as a courtroom drama.
So why did I buy it? Because of the other reviews in Amazon and because it got a cracking newspaper review "my favourite crime thriller". Really?
Which brings me to an interesting point. I had a look at the "all my other reviews" section of the other reviewers, and I have learnt something.
Before buying a book based on Amazon reviews, just check out the other reviews submitted by the people giving 5 stars. It's a very revealing resource, and all praise to Amazon for giving us this chance to avoid making mistakes like mine in the future.
on 7 November 2014
I had been reading this novel in Italian and found the legal jargon difficult to follow. Bought it in English and read it in one reading. Interesting enough for me to read some more of his books. However, I was a bit disappointed that the crime was not solved and the book was more about the process of the legal system in Italy and how a good lawyer can turn the tide in what appears to be a hopeless case. I kept wondering about the "involuntary witness" and when he or she would appear......
on 15 October 2007
This is now the third of three Carofiglio books I have read, despite it being the first published. Guido Guerrieri, the lead character, defends a Senegalese immigrant charged with the murder of a 9 year old boy.
As always, Carofiglio's books are immensely readable - I started reading on a Sunday morning and before I knew it, it was lunch-time and I had finished the book. Unfortunately, I still can't figure out what makes his books so appealing so I suspect it's a combination of things : the setting in Bari; Guido himself, as a troubled and flawed character, who you still have a great deal of empathy for; or the wit and thoughts which Carofiglio expresses through Guido.
The book is not at all technical and will not test readers looking for a complex legal thriller. This is despite some brilliant deliveries from Guido as he appeals to the jury members and the court. The book is also not a `whodunit' in the traditional English or American sense. Strikingly, the accused plays a very small part in the whole book, as does his wife who disappears very early on for no apparent good reason.
But there is just something about the way Carofiglio writes which has you craving for more!
on 7 March 2010
Somehow it is no surprise that the writer of this beautifully judged debut novel (a major seller in Italy), as well as being a prosecuting magistrate in Bari, southern Italy, is also a skilled juggler. For the novel brings off, superlatively, the difficult task of delivering not only an effective (if low-key) legal thriller but also a humane and convincing character study of a man undergoing what, for want of a better phrase, might be termed a mid-life crisis.
As the book opens, we find the married 38 year-old defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri lazily demanding (and getting) a fistful of notes from a street trader whose hamburger van ('hygienic condictions inside it were pretty much those of the sewers of Benares') has been confiscated by the authorities. 'Please don't give me the ones with mayonnaise stains' he prays silently. Later that evening his wife informs him that she is leaving. It is already clear that Guido has been off the rails for some time.
But, thanks be, though Guido has his share of Italian macho, the odd girlfriend on the side for instance, this is some distance from the mid-life crisis as conventionally portrayed. Of course he tries various conventional remedies: alcohol, more women a less conventional psychiatrist and meditation. But it is not until, early in the book, the case of Abdou Thiam, Senegalese beach trader, comes to his attention that Guido's mood of self-absorption really begins to lift. Abdou is accused of the murder of a nine year-old boy found at the bottom of a local well. The case is detailed and circumstantial, but under interrogation Abdou has contradicted himself; it seems that he would be well advised to take the 'shortened procedure' route available under Italian law, ie to plead guilty in return for a reduced sentence. It's a procedure that would have been accepted without thought by the Guido of the opening pages. Instead, prompted by surrounding events in the novel, he resolves to fight the case.
The book, like the legal system it so elegantly dissects, proceeds at a leisurely pace. But, switching between Guido's (somewhat cursory) investigation, the trial itself, as well as Guido's journey of self-discovery, it is never less than gripping. Told in the first person, the writing is economic, sometimes reflective, often wryly humorous. Its key overall theme, expresssed in the quotation from Lao-tzu that opens the book, like the incipient racism that informs the case against Abdou, emerges with great subtlety and skill. Very readably translated by Patrick Creagh, the book climaxes with a double whammy. I won't reveal either, but I guarantee you will finish this book not only moved but smiling. Don't miss.
( Bob Cornwell )
I've just come across this author, didn't read any prior reviews and am interested to note now the variance of those reviews. Although this is a crime mystery, as with several other Italian authors, the book is more about the lifestyle and character of the defence lawyer, Guido Guerrieri, rather than the the crime itself.
It's pretty obvious where the book will go from a legal standpoint; the book title suggests this though if the correct and full phrase had been used, the reader would guess the outcome anyway. But, far more interesting for me, is the way the author paints his picture in a rich vocabulary (so, thanks to the translator, too) of the lifestyle of the lawyer. They do things differently in Italy, as another Prosecutor aptly explains and that's no bad thing. I like the laid back approach, a welcome change from the aggression of both US and British court room dramas.
Our main protagonist starts the book as an unhappy man, suddenly prone to panic attacks and, although this behaviour sorts itself out over 12 months, it makes the lawyer focus finally on where he is going in his work and his social life, both of which eventually change for the better.
Apart from the initial distressing murder of a little boy, there is no violence - oh, I almost forgot a brief punch up in the street as the lawyer thwarts attempts to persuade him against going ahead with another case. For this I'm grateful. Life isn't all heavyweight action and it takes a book like this to remind us that most people do not face life and death situations every day of their lives. They face social upheaval, work worries, money worries, all of which is charmingly portrayed in this book. I don't know if Mr. Carofiglio has followed up with another book but I shall certainly do a bit of research to find out. I had to add this 'edit' as I suddenly realised I had just reviewed book 4 in this series. Oh dear! Obviously Temporary Perfections made a lasting impression. However, it does reinforce my suggested belief that this was an encouraging start to an interesting series even if this reviewer can't remember half the names of who's done what to whom and when.
on 3 April 2010
The plot in this book seems flimsy at best - the whole legal side of it is a reworking of "12 Angry Men" and one wonders about the state of the Italian legal system if the original charge sheet could really result in someone being put in jail for life without any hard evidence.
That said, if you suspend belief about the main legal plot it is an enjoyable read.
on 9 May 2012
This is NOT a thriller/whodunnit. If you're looking for such a book, don't read this one. The involuntary witness is not the nine year-old boy that's found murdered at the bottom of a well.
Central figure is an attorney who takes on a seemingly hopeless case of a Senegalese accused of murdering a nine-year old boy.
The attorney is a mess at the beginning at the book due to his sudden divorce, his conscience towards fair justice leaves something to be desired and the book is mainly about his journey towards good mental health and a sence of justice be done.
As a result only about a third of the book concerns the case for which he is hired. The rest is all about the I-person: me, me, ME!!! Even while the court procedings are going on, the story frequently comes to a complete stand-still when he meets yet another person of his past, which contributes nothing to the story, which gives no noticable depth to the central character and which holds up the story. Characters come, appear to be set up to fit within the story and then are gone without leaving a trace. A potentially interesting lady like Abajaje, the woman who initially contacts the main character to defend the Senegalese, is written out of the story that way.
As a result I was so bored that by the time the great climax of the book arrives (the crucial speech which turns the favour of the judges and which hinges on the principle of an 'involuntary witness') I just flicked through the pages glancing at passages here and there.
The author uses the most gruesome of crimes -the murder of a child- to build his story upon and then does NOTHING with it. The police asks no questions, they're just bent on finding a culprit and dumping him in jail for life. After the story ends, the questions are left unanswered. Why was the boy murdered? By whom? What was the motive? Why was he dumped in a well? Hints towards probable suspects, parents etc are never followed up. All of which could have helped move the story.
Instead you're left with a really bad taste in your mouth about how Italian Police and Italian Justice carry on. How everything depends on money, who likes whom, whether you're white or not, are foreign or not.
None of the supporting characters gain any depth and the I-person is mostly a very unsympathetic person.
The crime remains a by-line: a boy of nine is found murderd dumped in a well. Who was the boy? Was he intelligent, inquisitive, a rotten kid, pretty or ugly any reason for killing him? Or just an involuntary witness to something? We'll never know.
We won't even know -for sure- whether the accused was innocent or not. He is acquitted on tecnical grounds. It's probably close to the real-life environment of a defence lawyer, but as a legal thriller this book doesn't do it for me either.
I'm not averse to legal thrillers. I've read plenty of those. But this one was broken up too often to favour the I-person's personal life that there was almost no story left.
on 15 December 2015
As a former anti-Mafia judge, Carofiglio brings, not only his legal knowledge and insight into this story but also his experiences of human behaviour and the intolerance and prejudices he has seen demonstrated by people to each other.
The story is quite simple; a man is accused of a crime because he “looks” like he probably did it. The defence, in this case the lawyer Guido Guerrieri, has to both contend with and overcome the lack of evidence, the Italian judicial process and the hostility towards immigrants to defend his client. He’s also at a point in his life where he’s facing problems with relationships, work, motivation and focus.
He is a very engaging character with shortcomings and weaknesses but motivated by a strong desire to the right thing. The setting of southern Italy was a huge plus point for me (having visited often) and I was really interested in the places mentioned, it brought the novel to life.
I wouldn’t describe this book as a typical crime novel running along the familiar structures many popular crime writers take – the “crime” isn’t the focus of the story, it’s more about the investigation of human behaviour around the event. One reviewer describes the author as writing novels “that are as much love stories and philosophical treatises as they are legal thrillers” which is a perfect descriptions of what I thought a really thoughtful enjoyable read.