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  • Reviews for Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio
  • Gianrico Carofiglio |  Involuntary Witness |  Review
Reviews for Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio
'Italian lawyer Guido Guerrieri has not always been proud of the cases he has won. However, following a painful separation Guido undergoes a personal crisis that has a transformative effect on his moral outlook. When a nine year old boy is found murdered at the bottom of a well close to a well-known beach in Southern Italy local police are quick to label a Senegalese peddler as the culprit. Guido is approached to defend the peddler called Abdou Thiam although the weight of evidence against him seems overwhelming before the trial has even started. But Guido is quick to see the inconsistencies in the reports gathered about the case and soon comes to realise that Thiam is effectively being framed and demonised because of his ethnic background.
The novel takes a hard look at the Italian legal system and the widespread racism against African immigrants and reaches a number of uncomfortable conclusions. This gripping and enthralling legal thriller is also a highly enjoyable portrait of a flawed but humane central protagonist set against the landscapes and cityscapes of the Puglia region of the Italian south.
Author Gianrico Carofiglio is himself something of a fascinating figure having been an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari who is now a member of the Italian Senate. Involuntary Witness was a major bestseller in Italy and is now being published as a paperback translation by Bitter Lemon Press.
Humorous, cultured and thoughtful with a narrative driven by short espresso fuelled chapters Involuntary Witness offers a gritty roman noir told with flair and style'. - Crime Time
'Since being established in 2003, Bitter Lemon Press has brought to market the best of European Crime Fiction. This book by former anti - Mafia Prosecutor and now Roman Senator Carofiglio is a superb court room drama. It centres on the death of a young boy allegedly committed by Abdou an immigrant beach worker. He is defended by Guido Guerrieri through whom we see the life of the underclass in Italy, as well as, the Italian investigation system and the trial process. A superb read.' - Review of Law Society of Scotland

'Very readably translated by Creagh, the book finishes with a double whammy. I wont reveal either, but I guarantee you will finish this book not only moved but smiling - Don't miss.'

- Tangled Web

'The author occupies a niche similar to that which is filled in America by Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. The genre is flourishing and if Carofiglio, following his fellow practitioners, has endowed his hero with discriminating taste for good food, he has none of their relish for brutality. Violence is kept at arm's length.'

- Times Literary Supplement
'A NINE-YEAR-OLD boy is found murdered at the bottom of a well near a popular beach resort in southern Italy.A Senegalese peddler is accused of the crime and his girlfriend asks lawyer Guido Guerrieri to defend him. But, faced with small town racism, fuelled by the recent influx of immigrants from Africa, it looks like a hopeless case. The defendant, Abdou Thiam, denies knowing the child and yet a photo of him is found in the man's apartment. And a café owner insists he saw Thiam in the vicinity of the beach on the day of the murder, even though Thiam says he was miles away at the time. Gianrico Carofiglio's debut novel, Involuntary Witness (£7.99), has been reprinted by Bitter Lemon Press.
It is much more than a courtroom drama, it is a detailed insight into how the Italian legal system works - particularly topical following the worldwide attention given to the Meredith Kercher murder trial last year (in which American Amanda Knox and two others were convicted of killing the English girl in Perugia). It is also a study of a man. We meet Guerrieri as his life is falling apart. His wife has left him and he is suffering from depression and panic attacks. Gradually, the case, and a relationship with an attractive new neighbour help him to rebuild his life. Guerrieri is something of a philosopher as well as a lawyer and much of the story is his views on love and life. Carofiglio, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari, has since written two other Guerrieri novels and a fourth is in the pipeline.' - Newham Recorder
'I've written about Bitter Lemon Press before, when I reviewed Saskia Noort's Back to the Coast. They're a solid niche press, publishing crime fiction, most of it translated, in paperback editions.
Involuntary Witness, which they've just republished with a new cover is the debut novel from one of their lead authors, the Italian one-time anti-mafia prosecutor Gianrico Carofiglio.
The protagonist, in this novel and its sequels, is Guido Guerrieri, a defence lawyer who lives and works in Bari, a coastal town in the Italian region of Puglia (the area usually referred to as "the heel of the boot "). At the beginning of the novel, we find Guido in a bad state: still reeling from the end of his marriage, which has left him unable to concentrate at work and suffering from claustrophobia. When you add the development of a flirtation between Guido and his upstairs neighbour Margherita; and his latest case, involving an African streetseller accused of child murder, you get a pretty good idea of the formula that Carofiglio is working with.
Guido being a lawyer, the driving plot of Involuntary Witness is more courtroom drama than detective story, and Carofiglio is good at getting across the complexities of the Italian justice system as easily and as simply as possible. (There's also a good running joke about people not expecting or giving receipts.) The best pleasures in the book though come from the details, the way that Guerrieri talks about his past, or explores the world around him. An ex-boxer, this is how he remembers his time in the ring:
Thinking it over, I realized that it had been one of the few solid things in my life. The smell of glove leather, the punches given and taken, the hot shower afterwards, when you discovered that for two whole hours not a single thought had passed through your head.
The fear as you were walking towards the ring, the fear behind your expressionless eyes, behind the expressionless eyes of your opponent. Dancing, jumping, weaving, trying to dodge, giving and taking 'em, with arms so weary you can't keep your guard up, breathing through your mouth, praying it'll end because you can't take it any longer, wanting to punch but being unable to, thinking you don't care whether you win or lose as long as it ends, thinking you want to throw yourself on the ground but you don't, and you don't know what's keeping you on your feet or why and then the bell rings and you think you've lost and you don't care and then the referee raises your arm and you realize you've won and nothing exists in that moment, nothing exists but that moment. No one can take it away from you. Never ever.
Something that I think comes across in this is the playfulness of Carofiglio's writing; in this case, the way he lets his character get lost in the sentence, as though in a reverie over memories of better times. In other places this playfulness comes across in different ways: at one point, when Guido is browsing his neighbour's bookshelves, he finds a copy of John Fante's Ask The Dust, takes it down, and reads the last page… as do we, because it's all copied out for us.
The murder case provides a spine to the novel, but the meat is in these details, the way that Guido describes himself and the way he relates to the world. It's certainly enough to make me want to check out Bitter Lemon's other Carofiglio titles.' - The Fiction Desk
'An outstandingly good crime novel in every way: the theme is racism, the hero is scrupulous, melancholy and humane and the atmosphere --in a part of southern Italy torn between holidaymakers, local small-townees and illegal immigrants -- is almost palpable. The story culminates with one of the best courtroom scenes in crime fiction.' - Literary Review
'Although courtroom dramas aren't usually my 'thing', unless, of course, you equate Horace Rumpole's exchanges in the hallowed precincts of the Bailey as 'drama', I found Involuntary Witness, by Gianrico Carofiglia an absolute page-turner. The story revolves around the trial of a Senegalese immigrant who stands accused of the abduction and murder of a nine-years-old boy in a popular seaside resort near Bari in Southern Italy. Appointed to defend the man is Guido Guerrieri, a morose and cynical avoccato, still in a depression following the break up of his marriage. The evidence against his client is mainly circumstantial: a photo of the boy in his possession; a number of children's books in his apartment and the testimony of a rather dubious bar-owner who recalls seeing the accused near his premises on the day in question, plus the rather cavalier methods of the interrogation team. But given the overt racist views held by many in the area, due mainly to a recent influx of 'non Europeans' (it seems nothing changes!), the powers that be already have him convicted and incarcerated for life. This trial is the spur that Guerrieri needs to get his life back on track and the ensuing trial makes for a gritty and fascinating insight into the world of Italian judicial procedures. Gianrico Carofiglio is well placed to write about such matters. Before becoming an author he was, for many years, a leading anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari, and was responsible for many important indictments involving the perpetrators of organised crime, corruption and the traffic of human beings. He is now a member of the Italian Senate.' - Independent Catholic News

'It was May 14, 2002. I was in my office with two policemen, " Gianrico Carofiglio, an Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor, began. "And then my phone rang. The two guys that were in my room look at me because my face was-how can I say?-strange. They didn't know what was going on. "The caller wasn't a gravel-voiced tipster or a menacing don. It was a book editor, phoning to say that he wanted to publish a manuscript that Carofiglio had submitted. Carofiglio is not only a prominent procuratore della Repubblica; now he is also one of his country's best-selling authors.'

- Talk of the Town profile, New Yorker
'Involuntary Witness has one grateful that the author swapped prosecuting criminals for for rendering them in fiction as ambitious as this, with his lawyer hero involved in murder and racism.' - Independent

'I savoured INVOLUNTARY WITNESS with its spare writing, smoothly translated by Patrick Creagh. With its strong sense of place and the heat, I felt I was there. There's a real-time feel to the book as the main crime plot is stretched out whilst Guido is dealing with other business, romance, holidays and so on. Guido is such a likeable and sympathetic character I just enjoyed every moment of the book and I can't wait for the next book to be translated.'

- www.eurocrime.com

'A new voice, and one with which I am sure we will soon become familiar is that of Gianrico Carofiglio, an anti-mafia judge whose first crime novel, Involuntary Witness, has been a best seller in Italy and won many prizes. A powerful redemptive novel beautifully translated.'

- Daily Mail

'Involuntary Witness is a stunner. Two things put this novel on a higher plane. Guerrieri is a wonderfully convincing character; morose, but seeing the absurdity of his gloomy life, his vulnerability and cynicism laced with self-deprecating humour. Just as impressive is the social and racial portrait that Carofiglio draws. The trial itself is absorbing but it is the veracity of the setting and the humanity of the lawyer that makes the novel a courtroom drama of such rare quality.'

- The Times

'This novel has been called many, often quite different things, both by the critics and the public: a legal thriller, a roman noir, a psychological novel, a Bildungsroman, a love story. All these definitions contain an element of truth. But what I like to hear more than anything goes something like this: Reading your novel kept me up all night, I couldn't wait to see how Guido's story was going to end, how the trial was going to end, whether Abdou was going to be found guilty or not guilty, and all the rest of it. And you know something strange? As I was getting to the end I started to slow down, and I felt sad. Because I didn't want it to end.'

- Crime Time

'A sensational success in Italy. It's easy to see why. It has all the right ingredients- a charming hero, engrossing courtroom drama and a seriousness of social purpose carried effortlessly by a writer with a light touch.'

- Morning Star

'Humane courtroom dramas: the anti-mafia judge who writes legal thrillers. Involuntary Witness is as much about a man going through a midlife crisis as it is a legal thriller, as much a love story as an Italian whodunit, un giallo. The central character is Guido, a 38-year-old defence lawyer with a neat line in deadpan, self-deprecating humour who suddenly realises that his life so far hasn't amounted to much. He's been dumped by his wife, underwhelmed by his career - the future looks as lacklustre as a plate of bloated, overcooked ravioli. When he starts bursting into tears in front of his secretary and having panic attacks in the office elevator, the last thing on his mind is the case of a Senegalese illegal immigrant arrested for murdering a child whom he had befriended on the beach. When I tell the author, Gianrico Carofiglio, that the book - his first work of fiction - made me cry, he is quietly delighted. 'Thank you,' he smiles, shyly. 'I told my friends I wanted to write a book about love and sadness and the absurdity of life. I want readers to laugh and to cry. They thought I was crazy. "It's a stupid idea," they said. "You have never even written a novel before."' In fact, what Carofiglio did was to use some of his own midlife crisis as inspiration. By profession he is a high-profile prosecuting magistrate in Bari, a port city on the coast of southern Italy which is also the setting for the novel. Yet as he approached 40 he began to feel despondent. 'It was a very difficult time in my life,' he says. 'Since I was a boy I had always wanted to be a writer, but I'd begun to realise that it might never happen. I really had the idea that my life was over and I was almost destroyed by the thought.' He recalls the symptoms typical of a crisis: anxiety, nervousness, insomnia.

'I tried everything to find a cure. In the end I began to write. I had no choice. I don't want to sound so emphatic, but I had to begin. Otherwise nothing had any meaning.'

It seems appropriate that he has written a curiously gentle thriller. It may be set in a courtroom, but its theme is our power to change. 'The crime is lateral - it is not the most important thing for me. It's the tool to keep the reader going until the end. To use the trial as a metaphor. What the novel is really about is transformation,' he says. 'Someone who crosses a border from one part of their life to another one which is totally different.'

Despite his early success, there's little chance that he's about to give up the day job. We meet in Bari's New Justice Building, which overlooks a graveyard. As we make our way up to his office, everyone seems to know him. I wonder what his colleagues thought when an insider had the audacity to reveal both a flawed legal system and debunk the myth of the macho Italian man. 'The thing about Guido is that he believes in justice. He understands that the legal system is imperfect but he decides - and this is something I believe in, too - to fight inside the system, not outside. My books are about never surrendering. Understanding that this is an imperfect world, but that we need to fight.'

His is, he says, 'a very powerful job'. In Italy, the prosecuting magistrates work with the police to combat crime. A week earlier, he masterminded the arrest of more than 40 mobsters in the city of Barletta, 40 miles away. 'They are very dangerous men. Homicides, drug trafficking, arson... They ran the city.' Three years ago he was instrumental in the conviction of Nadia Tkachenko, a Ukrainian woman at the centre of a child-trafficking case who sold unborn babies for £200,000. In a surreal moment he looks up the word for 'bazooka' in his Italian/English dictionary - he once discovered an Italian gang had one aimed at him. Other Italian writers, such as Massimo Carlotto, are currently gaining a reputation for savage 'reality crime' novels. But for Carofiglio the process of writing, often in a spare half-hour snatched at the end of the day, is perhaps an antidote to some of the horrific details he is party to at work. 'I'm interested in characters who are human and imperfect,' he says. 'Sometimes weak, sometimes strong. I like to mix them up.' And as though to illustrate his point, this anti-mafia magistrate who drives around town in a dinky Smart car, the scourge of the local criminals who likes to write books that make his readers cry, tells me how he prefers to relax. He stands up, locks the door to his office, and gives me a wonderful display of another of his talents - juggling.'

- Observer

'It was May 14, 2002. I was in my office with two policemen, " Gianrico Carofiglio, an Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor, began. "And then my phone rang. The two guys that were in my room look at me because my face was-how can I say?-strange. They didn't know what was going on. "

The caller wasn't a gravel-voiced tipster or a menacing don. It was a book editor, phoning to say that he wanted to publish a manuscript that Carofiglio had submitted. Carofiglio is not only a prominent procuratore della Repubblica; now he is also one of his country's best-selling authors. He made a name in the nineties, arresting Puglian Mob bosses like Il Cecato (the Blind Man) and Lo Spazzino (the Street-Cleaner); last year, he broke up a syndicate that enslaved prostitutes and sold their newborn babies. By day, Carofiglio conducts searches, interrogates suspects, and leads trials. By night-or, more specifically, during the early-evening hours-he writes crisp, ironical novels that are as much love stories and philosophical treatises as they are legal thrillers. He inhabits the roles of crime fighter and crime writer with an almost Supermannish ease.

"I was a judge in the beginning of my career, " he was saying the other day, at the Italian Cultural Institute, on Park Avenue. "But then I switched to a prosecutor, because I'm kind of a cop in my soul. " Carofiglio, a handsome man, has a five-o'clock shadow, a leftover suntan, and a hairline like Eliot Spitzer's. He was there to read from his first book, "Involuntary Witness, " which has been translated into thirteen languages and was released last month in the United States. (In Italy, the book will become a television series, making its protagonist, Guido Guerrieri, a Continental Perry Mason.) "If somebody asked "-Carofiglio pronounced the word with two syllables- "me some years ago what is my most absurd dream, I would have said presenting a book, my book, in translation, in New York City. " (Carofiglio is an aficionado of American culture. His "ideal library, " he wrote recently in the magazine Crime Time, would include the movie "Manhattan, " CDs by REM and Bruce Springsteen, and books by J. D. Salinger.)

Carofiglio told the crowd that since childhood he'd been saying that he wanted to be a writer, but by his late thirties he had managed to produce only a couple of technical manuals, on witness psychology and cross-examination techniques. "If you say something like this when you are approaching the year forty, " he said, "you are something more than pathetic. " (Guido, a defense attorney, suffers from a similar sense of midlife ennui.) There were also practical constraints. "At one point, I had an armored Fiat, " Carofiglio said. "I can tell you, that was not fun. There were plots against me. One was with a bazooka. I had four bodyguards; I was supposed to go with them twenty-four hours a day. "

For the reading, Carofiglio had selected a passage in which Guido ponders the side effects of an anti-depressant that has been prescribed for him: "What do you do in the case of a prolonged and painful erection? Do you go to a hospital holding the thing in your hand? Do you put on very comfortable underpants? " His solution is to flush the pills down the toilet, pour a glass of whiskey, and put on a videotape of "Chariots of Fire. "

Later, Carofiglio admitted that his stay in New York had been a respite from the gruelling routine of the courtroom. "I went to an excellent place called Bed Bath & Beyond, " he said. "I went to a club called Hiro, and I had lunch in Pastis. " The next day, he was flying back to Bari. "Monday, " he said. "Monday will be awful. I have to start a special case. It is a file against some oncologists who falsified papers for their clients to allow them to be treated in a special institute. People with little problems in the nose-and people with cancer have to wait. "

And there are other threats to the peace. A few months ago, Carofiglio received an e-mail from a fan of "Involuntary Witness. " It read, "Watch what you do to Guido. Remember 'Misery' ?'

- The New Yorker, December 5, 2005

'Compelling novel written by a judge, the scourge of local criminals who likes to write books that make his readers cry. An author that has the audacity to reveal both a flawed legal system and debunk the myth of the macho Italian man.'

- Observer
'I've written about Bitter Lemon Press before, when I reviewed Saskia Noort's Back to the Coast. They're a solid niche press, publishing crime fiction, most of it translated, in paperback editions.
Involuntary Witness, which they've just republished with a new cover is the debut novel from one of their lead authors, the Italian one-time anti-mafia prosecutor Gianrico Carofiglio.
The protagonist, in this novel and its sequels, is Guido Guerrieri, a defence lawyer who lives and works in Bari, a coastal town in the Italian region of Puglia (the area usually referred to as "the heel of the boot "). At the beginning of the novel, we find Guido in a bad state: still reeling from the end of his marriage, which has left him unable to concentrate at work and suffering from claustrophobia. When you add the development of a flirtation between Guido and his upstairs neighbour Margherita; and his latest case, involving an African streetseller accused of child murder, you get a pretty good idea of the formula that Carofiglio is working with.
Guido being a lawyer, the driving plot of Involuntary Witness is more courtroom drama than detective story, and Carofiglio is good at getting across the complexities of the Italian justice system as easily and as simply as possible. (There's also a good running joke about people not expecting or giving receipts.) The best pleasures in the book though come from the details, the way that Guerrieri talks about his past, or explores the world around him. An ex-boxer, this is how he remembers his time in the ring:
Thinking it over, I realized that it had been one of the few solid things in my life. The smell of glove leather, the punches given and taken, the hot shower afterwards, when you discovered that for two whole hours not a single thought had passed through your head.
The fear as you were walking towards the ring, the fear behind your expressionless eyes, behind the expressionless eyes of your opponent. Dancing, jumping, weaving, trying to dodge, giving and taking 'em, with arms so weary you can't keep your guard up, breathing through your mouth, praying it'll end because you can't take it any longer, wanting to punch but being unable to, thinking you don't care whether you win or lose as long as it ends, thinking you want to throw yourself on the ground but you don't, and you don't know what's keeping you on your feet or why and then the bell rings and you think you've lost and you don't care and then the referee raises your arm and you realize you've won and nothing exists in that moment, nothing exists but that moment. No one can take it away from you. Never ever.
Something that I think comes across in this is the playfulness of Carofiglio's writing; in this case, the way he lets his character get lost in the sentence, as though in a reverie over memories of better times. In other places this playfulness comes across in different ways: at one point, when Guido is browsing his neighbour's bookshelves, he finds a copy of John Fante's Ask The Dust, takes it down, and reads the last page… as do we, because it's all copied out for us.
The murder case provides a spine to the novel, but the meat is in these details, the way that Guido describes himself and the way he relates to the world. It's certainly enough to make me want to check out Bitter Lemon's other Carofiglio titles.' - The Fiction Desk

'I was very taken, though, by a debut novel from Italian writer Gianrico Carofiglio who is, in real life, an anti-Mafia judge. INVOLUNTARY WITNESS, which features defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri, is intelligent crime fiction at its very best…INVOLUNTARY WITNESS is a cool, poised intelligent piece of writing. If you're looking for slam, bang, thwack crime fiction then you're in the wrong place.'

- Reviewingtheevidence.com
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