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on 8 March 2017
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on 27 September 2012
Suspense, atmosphere, relationships, this the first of a thoroughly believable short series of books about a small time lawyer in a town in Italy. The action is sufficient to satisfy my "what happens next".. and it is beautifully interspersed with his thoughts, doubts, successes and failures in his wider life. An intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable read.
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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!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 February 2015
The problem with nearly all courtroom dramas is that they are too black and white. The good and bad parties are clearly signalled to the reader who derives satisfaction from seeing the lies of the bad parties gradually exposed until truth, and the good parties, prevail. But it is a cheap satisfaction. A few courtroom novels surpass this and create a nuanced, genuinely fascinating read. To Kill a Mocking Bird is perhaps the most famous example although it is still quite black and white. An excellent one you may not know is Snow falling on Cedars by David Guterson (in case anyone is interested, I expand on this point in my review of it). I also strongly recommend An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, a truly fascinating read and all the better for being historically accurate down to almost the last detail.

Involuntary Witness falls in the black and white category and I can only recommend it as a light read. However, it is well written, it has the advantage of being written by a judge and it does bring an extra dimension, albeit it a modest one, in that the reflections of the narrator on his life and the characters around him are witty and thoughtful. The Italian setting adds a bit of spice. I will probably read the sequel.

A solid 4 star recommendation.
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VINE VOICEon 28 October 2006
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.
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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.
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on 14 February 2017
Guido Guerrieri is a dissolute criminal defence lawyer bored in Bari, near the heel of the Italian boot. He doesn’t have many cases. He wanders around his office smoking Marlboro Lights (this is 2002). He hopes work will walk in off the street. By the end of chapter 1 his wife Sara leaves him and he takes on an apparently hopeless case. Abou Thiam, a harmless and friendly Senegalese beach trader, is accused of child murder. WE imagine the case will be the saving of Guido, that he will storm to an heroic forensic courtroom victory as he batters the racism and antipathy of this small Italian town and regains the dignity he lost when Sara gave him the elbow.

But the book struggles to deliver. The narrative plods on as the twin themes of Guido’s redemption and justice for Abou vie with each other to see who can get to the end of the book first. Guido wallows in aimless confusion as he engages with a series of odd women at the same time as he engages in a series of odd court hearings building to the trial of Abou.

Spoiler alert …………. Guido does obtain the acquittal of the hapless Abou. But not through grim pre-trial detective work, of which we hear very little, not through tricky Grisham like courtroom tactics, not through the advocacy of Atticus Finch on his best day. No. But through a long and tedious monologue launched at the captive jury about the unreliability of eyewitness evidence. Margherita, one of the odd woman but now Guido’s assistant, tells him he was on his feet for 2 and half hours. The jury must have wanted to shout ‘OK, we give up, we acquit’. This monologue clogs up both the last few pages of the book and valuable court time – the verdict isn’t reached until 10pm.

The author, Gainfranco Caroffiglio, was an aniti Mafia prosecutor in Bari and now a full time author. There are a series of novel’s featuring Guido. This is the first and is a good effort. There is an easy noir feel to Guido’s exploits. There is a nice line in dark humour and I really liked the description of a boxing gym and a match after Guido resumes the sport in an effort to recover from the disaster of his marriage. I will look for another book in the series but I can only go 3 stars.
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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.
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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 )
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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.
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