Book Extracts
Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio

Part One

I well remember the day – or rather the afternoon –
before it all began.
I’d been in the office for a quarter of an hour and
had absolutely no wish to work. I had already checked
my e-mails and the post, straightened a few stray
papers, made a couple of pointless telephone calls. In
short, I had run out of pretexts, so I’d lit a cigarette.
I would just quietly enjoy this cigarette and then
start work.
After the cigarette I’d have found some other
excuse. Maybe I’d go out, remembering a book I had
to get from Feltrinelli’s that, one way or another, I’d
too often put off buying.
While I was smoking, the telephone rang. It was the
internal line, my secretary ringing from the waiting
She had a gentleman there who had no appointment
but said it was urgent.
Practically no one ever has an appointment. People
go to a criminal lawyer when they have serious, urgent
problems, or at least are convinced they do. Which
comes to the same thing of course.
In any case, in my office the routine went as follows:
my secretary called me, in the presence of the person
who urgently needed to see a lawyer. If I was busy – for
example, with another client – I made them wait until I
was finished.
If I was not busy, as on that afternoon, I made them
wait all the same.
I wanted them to know that this office is for working
in, and that I receive clients only if the matter is
I told Maria Teresa to inform the gentleman that I
could see him in ten minutes, but couldn’t spare him
much time because I had an important meeting.
People think that lawyers often have important
Ten minutes later the gentleman entered. He had
long black hair, a long black beard and goggling eyes.
He sat down and leaned towards me, with his elbows
on the desk.
For a moment I was certain that he would say, “I
have just killed my wife and mother-in-law. They’re
downstairs in the back of the car. Luckily I have an
estate car. What are we going to do about it, Avvocato?”
Nothing of the sort. He had a van from which he
sold grilled frankfurters and hamburgers. The health
inspectors had confiscated it because hygienic conditions
inside it were pretty much those of the sewers of
This bearded character wanted his van back. He
knew that I was a smart lawyer because he had been
told so by one of his mates, a client of mine. With a
kind of sickening conspiratorial smirk, he gave me the
name of a drug pusher for whom I had managed to
negotiate a disgracefully light sentence.
I demanded an exorbitant advance, and from his
trouser pocket he produced a roll of 50,000- and
100,000- lire notes.
Please don’t give me the ones with mayonnaise
stains, I prayed resignedly.
He thumbed out the sum I had asked for, and left
me the confiscation document and all the other
documents. No, he didn’t want a receipt: what would I
do with it, Avvocato? Another conspiratorial smirk. We
tax evaders understand one another, don’t we?
Years before, I had quite enjoyed my work. Now, on
the contrary, it made me feel slightly sick. And when I
came across people like this hamburger merchant I
felt sicker still.
I felt I deserved a meal of frankfurters served by this
Rasputin and to land up in Casualty. In wait for me
there I would find Dr Carrassi.
Dr Carrassi, second-in-command in the Casualty
Department, had killed off a 21-year-old girl with
peritonitis by misdiagnosing it as period pains.
His lawyer – yours truly – got him off without the loss
of a day’s work or a penny of his salary. It wasn’t a
difficult case. The public prosecutor was an idiot and
counsel for the family a terminal illiterate.
When he was acquitted, Carrassi gave me a hug. He
had bad breath, he was sweating and he was under the
impression that justice had been done.
Leaving the courtroom I avoided the eyes of the
girl’s parents.
The bearded character left and I, choking down
nausea, prepared the appeal against the confiscation
of his precious meals-on-wheels.
Then I went home.
On Friday evenings we usually went to the cinema,
followed by dinner in a restaurant, always with the
same bunch of friends.
I never took any part in choosing the cinema or
the restaurant. I did whatever Sara and the others
decided and spent the evening in a state of suspended
animation, waiting for it to end. Unless it turned out to
be a film I really liked, but that happened increasingly
When I got home that evening Sara was already
dressed to go out. I said I needed at least a quarter of
an hour, just time for a shower and change of clothes.
Ah, she was going out with her own friends, was she?
Which friends? The ones from the photography
course. She might have told me earlier, and I’d have
got myself organized. She’d told me the day before
and it wasn’t her fault if I didn’t listen to what she said.
Oh, all right, there’s no need to get in a huff. I’d have
tried to arrange something for myself, if I’d had time.
No, I had no intention of making her feel guilty, I only
wanted to say just exactly what I had said. Very well,
let’s just stop bickering.
She went out and I stayed at home. I thought of
calling the usual friends and going out with them.
Then it seemed to me absurdly difficult to explain why
Sara wasn’t there and where she had gone, and I
thought they would give me funny looks, so I dropped
the idea.
I tried calling up a girl who at that time I sometimes
used to see on the sly, but she, almost whispering into
her mobile, told me she was with her boyfriend. What
did I expect on a Friday? I felt at a loose end, but then I
thought I’d rent a good thriller, get out a frozen pizza
and a big bottle of cold beer and, one way or another,
that Friday evening would pass.
I chose Black Rain, even though I’d already seen it
twice. I saw it a third time and still liked it. I ate the
pizza and drank all the beer. On top of that I had a
whisky and smoked several cigarettes. I flipped
between television channels, discovering that the local
stations had taken to showing hard porn again. This
made me realize that it was one in the morning, so I
went to bed.
I don’t know when I got to sleep and I don’t know
when Sara came in, because I didn’t hear her.
When I woke next morning she was already up. I
took my sleepy face into the kitchen and she, without a
word, poured me a cup of American coffee. Both of us
have always liked American coffee, really weak.
I took two sips and was just about to ask her what
time she had got back the night before when she told
me she wanted a separation.
She said it just like that: “Guido, I want a separation.”
After a long, deafening silence I was forced to ask
the most banal of questions.
She told me why. She was perfectly calm and
implacable. Maybe I thought she hadn’t noticed how
my life had been in the last . . . let’s say two years. She,
on the other hand, had noticed and she hadn’t liked it.
What had humiliated her most was not my infidelity –
and the word struck me in the face like spittle – but the
fact that I had shown real disrespect by treating her
like a fool. She didn’t know if I had always been like this
or had become so. She didn’t know which alternative
she preferred and perhaps she didn’t even care.
She was telling me that I had become a mediocrity
and may have been one all along. And she had no wish
to live with a mediocrity. Not any longer.
Like a real mediocrity, I found nothing better to do
than ask her if there was someone else. She simply said
no and that in any case, from that moment on, it was
no business of mine.
This conversation didn’t last long after that, and ten
days later I was out of the house.

The Silence of the Wave by Gianrico Carofiglio


For the third time he passed her outside the doctor’s front door. It was on a Monday, at the same hour as usual. But he was certain he had seen her somewhere even before these encounters, although he had no idea where or when. 

Maybe she was also a patient and had an appointment at four, he said to himself as he climbed the stairs to the doctor’s office. 

He rang the bell. After a moment or two the door opened, and the doctor let him in. As usual, they walked in silence down the corridor, between shelves filled with books, came to the office and sat down, Roberto in front of the desk, the doctor behind it. 

“So, how are things today? Last time you were in a bad mood.” 

“I’m better today. I don’t know why, but as I was coming up the stairs, I remembered an old story from my first years in the Carabinieri.” 

“Tell me.” 

“After finishing the officers’ training academy, I was posted as a sergeant to a station in a small town in Milan province.” 

“Was that normal for a first posting?” 

“Oh, yes, perfectly normal. It was a quiet place. Too quiet in fact; nothing ever happened. The commanding officer – an elderly marshal – was a peaceable character who always liked to sort things out in a good-natured way. I don’t think he even liked arresting people. Not that there were many arrests anyway. A few petty crooks, a few small-time drug dealers at most.” 

“How about you?” 

“I’m sorry?” 

“Did you like arresting people?” Roberto hesitated for a moment.  

“Put like that, it doesn’t sound very good, I guess, but yes, I did. A real law-enforcement officer – and not all carabinieri, not all policeman are – lives for arrests. From a professional point of view, I mean. If you do your work well, in the end you want to see the result, and there’s no point in denying that the result you’re looking for is someone ending up behind bars.” 

Roberto thought a moment longer about what he had just said. It was something he’d always taken for granted but, formulated as a coherent thought and uttered out loud, it acquired an unexpected, even unpleasant significance. He shook his head, and made an effort to get back to his story. 

“One day I’m at the barber’s when I hear shouts from the street, and I look out and see a woman running, dragging a child after her. I stand up and remove my towel. The barber’s really alarmed and tells me not to do anything stupid. But we’re in the North, I think to myself, why’s he telling me that? Things like this happen in the South. I tell him I’m a carabiniere, though he already knows that, and then I run out and catch up with the woman.” 

“What had happened?” 

“There was a bank robbery in progress, about a hundred yards away.” 

“I see.” 

“I remember everything very well. I took out my pistol, slid the rack back to load it, lowered the hammer to avoid a shot going off accidentally, and moved. When I got to the corner, just before the entrance to the bank, I noticed a Volvo with its engine on, but nobody inside.” 

“It was outside the bank?” 

“No, it was round the corner. About thirty yards from the entrance, but in a side street. The bank was on the high street. I got in, switched off the engine and took the keys.” 

“But why had they left the car unattended?” 

“The two who had gone into the bank were taking their time, and the driver had gone in to tell them to hurry up. Obviously, we only found that out later. I’d just turned the corner when I saw them all come out. I tried to remember what they’d told us in training about what to do in such a situation.” 

“What had they told you?” 

“Not to do anything stupid. If there was a robbery, we had to call for back-up and keep an eye on the situation, but avoid going in on our own.” 

“So the barber wasn’t wrong.” 

“That’s true.” 

“And then?” 

“At that particular moment, I forgot all about what I’d been taught.” 

“They were armed, obviously?” 

“Two guns. When I saw them come out I shouted ‘Halt! Carabinieri!’ I remembered that because I’d repeated it so many times to myself, waiting for the first opportunity to arise.” 

It struck Roberto that he had almost never told this story before, and he had the feeling that behind this one memory were a whole heap of others. For a few moments he felt overwhelmed, and couldn’t continue. He didn’t think he could tell any story at all, because he’d be unable to choose which one to tell. 

“So you said, ‘Halt! Carabinieri!’ And then what happened?” The doctor’s voice set the stalled mechanism back in motion. 

“In their report, my superiors wrote that the robbers opened fire and Sergeant Roberto Marías responded with his service pistol. But I don’t really know who fired first. All I know is that a few seconds later, one of them was on the ground, in front of the entrance to the bank, and the other two were running away. What happened immediately after that is the part I remember best. I knelt down, took aim and fired off a full magazine of bullets.” 

Roberto told the rest of the story. A second robber went down, hit in the leg. The third was stopped later. The one shot in front of the bank was seriously wounded but pulled through. A few days after the shoot-out Roberto was summoned by the commander of the criminal investigations unit, who congratulated him, told him he would certainly be decorated, and asked him if he would like to be transferred to Milan. Roberto accepted, and that was how, at not even twenty-three, he found himself doing the job for which he had joined the Carabinieri: detective. 

“So that’s how it all started?” the doctor said. 

“That’s how it all started.” 

“And you say this story came back into your mind as you were climbing the stairs to come here?” 

“That’s right.” 

“And before that you’d been thinking of something else to tell me about?” 

“Yes. I wanted to tell you about a dream I had last night.” 

“What did you dream about?” 

“Surfing. I dreamed I was on the waves.” 

“Surfing? Is that a sport you’ve ever practised?” 

Roberto was silent for a while, seeing remote, silent waves and thinking about how pungent the ocean smelled, although he couldn’t bring the smell back. 

“I surfed when I was a boy, before I came to Italy with my mother.” 

He was about to continue but then either couldn’t find the words or the memories, or else couldn’t summon up the courage. So he remained silent and avoided looking at the doctor, who waited a couple of minutes and then said that would be enough for this afternoon. 

“See you next Thursday.” 

Roberto looked at him, waiting for him to add something. It always seemed as if he had something to add, but he never did. See you next Monday. See you next Thursday. And that was it. Roberto would leave the office with a vague sense of frustration, although lately that had been combined with a touch of relief. 

*   *   * 

Life had started to take on a semblance of order after so many months of drifting. 

He was even managing to sleep. With the help of drops, of course, but nothing in comparison with a few months earlier, when he’d had to take really powerful pills that would plunge him into a deep, leaden sleep. 

He’d also started to do a bit of exercise, every now and again he tried to read the newspaper, he had almost stopped drinking, and he’d cut his cigarette consumption down to less than ten a day. 

And then there were the walks. 

The doctor had suggested he go for long walks. So long that he got back home tired, or rather, exhausted. He had been quite sceptical at first, but he’d gone along with it, the way you go along with a medical prescription – what else was this, after all? – and almost immediately had realized, to his surprise, that for one reason or another the walks worked. 

He would concentrate on his steps, mentally repeating the sequence. Heel, sole, push, move. And again heel, sole, push, move. Ad infinitum, like a mantra. 

This new-found awareness had a hypnotic effect and helped to drain away his bad moods. Sometimes Roberto would walk up to three or four hours non-stop, and it seemed quite healthy to feel tired at the end. It was nothing like the exhaustion and confusion of the previous few months. 

It wasn’t that he didn’t think about anything during these walks. That, of course, would have been the best thing. But the speed and the concentration on movement stopped the thoughts from lingering too long in his head. All kinds of things would come into his mind, but they would immediately slip away to be replaced by others. 

The days and weeks had taken on a rhythm. The week gravitated around his two appointments with the doctor, on Monday and Thursday. The day revolved around his endless, hypnotic walking. 

Occasionally, one of his colleagues would phone him and ask him if he’d like to go out for a coffee or maybe a pizza. At first he’d always refused politely, but they would insist and after a while he’d realized that it was less of a bother to accept the invitation. He would humour his colleague’s attentive if guarded attitude towards him and wait for the moment when he would be able to say goodbye and leave. Sometimes he would feel as if he were hanging over an abyss. But then he would return home and listen to the stereo or watch TV until it was time to take his drugs and fall into a chemical sleep. 

Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio


It all began with an innocent phone call from an old university friend.  

Sabino Fornelli is a civil lawyer. If one of his clients runs into criminal problems, Sabino calls and gives me the case. Then he washes his hands of it. Like many civil lawyers, he thinks of the criminal-court system as a dangerous and disreputable place. He tries to steer clear of it. 

One March afternoon, while I was absorbed in an appeal I was scheduled to argue the following day before the Court of Cassation, I received a call from Sabino Fornelli 

We hadn’t spoken in months. 

“Ciao, Guerrieri, how are you?”  

“Fine, how about you?”  

“Same as ever. My son’s doing a semester abroad, in the US.”  

“Great. Wonderful idea, that’ll be a memorable experience.”  

“It’s been a memorable experience for me, certainly. My wife’s been driving me crazy since the day he left. She’s been worried sick about him.”  

We went back and forth for a few more minutes, exchanging the usual platitudes, and then he got to the point of his call: two clients of his wanted to see me about a sensitive and urgent matter. He spoke the words “sensitive and urgent” in a hushed voice that struck me as slightly ridiculous. The most serious case Fornelli had referred to me so far was a dramatic little affair involving obscenities and insults, a beating, and a breaking-and-entering charge.  

Basically, given our past history, I couldn’t take it too seriously when Sabino Fornelli called any case he sent my way “sensitive and urgent”.  

“I’m going to Rome tomorrow, Sabino, and I don’t know what time I’ll be back. The next day is Saturday.” I glanced quickly at my appointment book. “Ask them to stop by late on Monday, some time after eight. What’s the case?” He didn’t speak for a moment.  

“Fine, some time after eight. I’m going to come, too. We’ll tell you all about it in person. That’ll be easier.”  

Now it was my turn not to speak for a moment. Fornelli had never come to my office with any of his referrals. I was about to ask him why he was doing it this time, and why he couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but something stopped me. Instead, I just said that it was fine and I’d expect them in my office at 8:30 on Monday. Then we both hung up. 

I sat there for a minute, wondering what this was about. I couldn’t think of an explanation, so I went back to my appeal. 

A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio


You never quit smoking. 

You give up for a while. Days, months, years. But you never quit completely. Cigarettes are always there, lying in wait. Sometimes they appear in the middle of a dream, even five or ten years after youve quit. 

You feel the touch of the paper on your fingers, you hear the soft, dull, reassuring noise it makes when you tap it on your desk, you feel the touch of the ochre filter on your lips, you hear the scrape of the match and you see the yellow flame with its blue base. 

You even feel the kick in your lungs, and you see the smoke spreading over your papers, your books, your cup of coffee. 

And then you wake up. And you think a cigarette, just one cigarette, wont matter very much. You could light one right now, because you always have that emergency packet in your desk drawer, or somewhere else. And then, of course, you tell yourself it doesnt work like that, that if you light one youll light another, and then another, and so on, and so on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt. Whatever happens, its at moments like these that you realize the phrase to quit smoking is an abstract concept. The reality is quite different. 

And then there are other times, more concrete than dreams. Nightmares, for example. 


It had already been a few months since Id stopped smoking. 

I was on my way back from the Public Prosecutors department, where I had been studying the documents relating to a civil action in which I was involved. And I had a bloody great desire to go into a tobacconists, buy a packet of strong, sharp-tasting cigarettes yellow MSs, maybe and smoke them till my lungs burst. 

Id been hired by the parents of a little girl whod been the victim of a paedophile. Hed waited outside her school, had called to her, and shed followed him. Theyd both gone into the entrance hall of an old apartment block. The woman caretaker had seen them, and had followed them in. The pervert was rubbing the flies of his trousers against the girls face, the girls eyes were closed and she wasnt saying anything. 

The caretaker had screamed. The pervert had escaped, raising his collar as he did so. Simple but effective, because the caretaker hadnt managed to get a good look at his face. 

When the girl had been questioned, with the help of a nice lady psychologist, it had emerged that this hadnt been the first time. Not even the second or third time. 

The police had done their job well. Theyd identified the pervert, and had photographed him secretly. Outside the council office where he worked a model employee. The girl had recognized him. Shed pointed at the photograph, her teeth chattering, and then looked away. 

When the police had gone to arrest him, theyd found a collection of photos. Photos straight out of a nightmare. 

The photos Id seen that morning, in the file. 

I wanted to smash someones face. The perverts, if I could. Or his lawyers. The lawyer had written that the little girls statements are clearly unreliable, the result of morbid fantasies typical of certain individuals at a prepubescent age. Id really have liked to smash his face. Id also have liked to smash the faces of the appeal court judges, whod put the paedophile under house arrest. According to their ruling, to avoid the risk of repetition of admittedly serious acts of the kind at issue in this case, restriction of personal freedom in the lesser form of house arrest is sufficient. 

They were right. Technically, they were right. I knew that perfectly well, I was a lawyer. I myself had upheld the same principle many times. For my own clients. Thieves, con men, armed robbers, fraudulent bankrupts. Even a few drug dealers. 

But not men who raped children. 

Be that as it may, I wanted to smash someones face. Or smoke. 

Or do anything rather than go back to my office to work.