#RivetingReviews: Max Easterman ELN
This is the latest in Gianrico Carofiglio’s series of Italian thrillers featuring his defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri, a man with a penchant for going the extra mile in his determination to defend his clients, which inevitably lands him in all sorts of trouble. But this novel is a step change, as Guerrieri settles uncomfortably into high middle age, thinking about his life, his achievements, missed opportunities and whether it was all worth it. He reflects on how his profession has exchanged courtesy for vulgarity, even brutality, how “my future is sunk in the past”. It’s a painful analysis for him, a period of introspection provoked by a medical scare: “…I was suspended over a void… The thought that in a short while, not in some remote, abstract future, you’ll cease to exist. The world will cease to exist”. This is a finely drawn exploration of the human condition, one that in lesser hands than Carofiglio’s could easily have descended into banality.
The medical scare is a false alarm, but one that brings Guerrieri up short with this mid-life reality check; and into this maelstrom of emotion steps the figure of Judge Pierluigi Larocca, head of the Appeal Court… who, as Guerrieri surmises, turns out to be ”…a flashing red sign saying Danger Ahead.”
Larocca and Guerrieri attended the same school and university; but while Guerrieri “hung out with all sorts of people”, Larocca pursued a golden career, scoring top marks in whatever he tackled, and is now set to become the youngest president of the Court of Bari… except he stands accused of corruption, taking back-handers, and he wants Guerrieri to take on his defence. He only reluctantly agrees because he believes Larocca is so straight, so untouchable, that his initial reaction was mistaken – defending someone he knows as a friend, if a distant one, would go against all his instincts; his ultimate conviction that Larocca is innocent persuades him.
And so he embarks on an investigation into his client, with the help of a bisexual private detective Annapaola Doria, an almost-Lisbeth Salander-type figure, who rides a motorbike and carries a baseball bat for those occasions when nothing else will do. Together, their discoveries about Larocca’s alleged links to the Mafia bring back all Guerrieri’s fears, that taking on this case was an error of judgment, but one he is now stuck with. Carofiglio deftly turns his protagonist’s discomfiture into a fascinating, gripping exploration of the relationship between defendant and counsel, of the meaning of ‘justice’ and of the shortcomings of the Italian legal system – except that, as we read, we realise that this is all about legal systems everywhere, morality everywhere, ethics in everyone’s life and work. For Guerrieri, the question becomes, should he give up the brief? Would he do that if he discovered a defendant accused of robbery had actually done the deed? No! But then: “A corrupt judge”, Guerrieri muses as he cycles round his city, Bari, “not his existence but the fact that he’s your client… undermines the system, the structure, the whole theatre where you’ve played your role…”
The law as theatre, a Shakespearian metaphor, and an apt one, but the strutting actors have become for Guerrieri players with a kind of moral anaesthesia.
“You fill yourself with lies to justify your own cowardice… Everybody lies. Anyone who says they don’t is either an idiot or a bigger liar than anyone else. Mental health consists in finding a point of balance between truth and lies… Lying to your fellow man is often ethical and healthy… Lying to yourself, though, is quite another matter.” The ultimate legal dilemma is distilled in this relationship between Guerrieri and Larocca: “If that man continues to be a judge, how can I continue to be a lawyer.” However it ends, being a lawyer will never be the same again.
Economist 1843 Magazine:
In his life before literature, Gianrico Carofiglio faced threats more serious than a razor-edged review. From John Mortimer to Scott Turow, quite a few courtroom stars have also shone in crime fiction. Hardly any can have worked closer to the cutting-edge of organised thuggery than Carofiglio – author of a series of thrillers featuring the defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri – who used to serve as an anti-gang prosecutor in Bari, where the books are set. In that part of Italy, on the Adriatic coast, the mafia goes by the charming name of the Union of the Holy Crown.
Carofiglio’s gang-busting prowess eventually took him to Rome, first as an adviser on organised crime to the Italian senate and then (from 2008) as a senator himself. For a while, he still needed a bodyguard. His enemies, you sense, would not have been satisifed by posting a one-star review on Amazon.
Given this scarily authentic back-story, readers can expect rather different fare from the genial, even sentimental, adventures of Inspector Montalbano across the straits in Sicily. Carofiglio, whose books have sold more than five million copies, delivers a grittier, tougher brand of case than Montalbano’s begetter Andrea Camilleri. Guerrieri also has a tendency to plunge into bouts of introspection about the meaning of law and justice, guilt and innocence, at just those moments when the Sicilian sleuth would start to think about his dinner.
Not that Carofiglio’s protagonist counts as a bloodless ascetic. Divorced, and now approaching fifty, he boxes, drinks, dates and – inevitably – eats well. Early in his fifth and latest outing in English translation, “A Fine Line”, Guerrieri celebrates the end of a successful suit by preparing “a dressing of very spicy chilli pepper, black olives, anchovies and fried breadcrumbs” and tossing it with “two-hundred grams of spaghetti from the Abruzzi”. Although it’s not quite a gastronomic playground on the Montalbano model, you might still plan your suppers from this series.
Gang crime aside, Guerrieri’s role as a defence lawyer leads him down every dark alley of the Adriatic port. “Involuntary Witness”, the first of Howard Curtis’s robust and flavoursome translations, explored ingrained racism and the precarious plight of immigrants from Africa. In “A Walk in the Dark”, Guerrieri exposed violence against women and the code of omerta that renders it invisible in the grandest families, just as much as among slumland mafiosi. Now, in “A Fine Line”, he tangles with judicial corruption and its toxic seepage not only through a single court but through the rule of law itself.
Pierluigi Larocca, a fellow-student of Guerrieri’s who has risen to become a senior appeal judge in Bari is a dry, prickly but solid pillar of society. Then, out of the blue, gangsters down the road in Lecce start accusing him of taking bribes: 50,000 euros to quash a case. Larocca hires Guerrieri, who believes that the hoodlums want to save their own skin by shifting the blame. When, however, Guerrieri calls in extra help from the intrepid private eye Annapaola Doria – a fearless bisexual biker with more than a touch of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander – the story grows as murky and risky as the inner-city “Cep” neighbourhood where she lives with her Maine Coon cat and Tom Waits CDs.
Guerrieri has just suffered a cancer scare, even if his diet hints more at acute cardiac risk. Mid-life ruminations over time wasted, errors committed and roads not taken punctuate a case that also makes him – and us – tread the fine, blurred lines that divide right and wrong, truth and lies. The lawyer has heard Judge Larocca deliver a wise and subtle lecture on the law’s quest for a safe space where “rules, guarantees and rights” can flourish. Could this paragon of moral jurisprudence really have betrayed himself and his ideals? And if he has, what remains of his counsel’s cherished self-image as an upright man who defends the weak?
Carofiglio seasons his plot with enough philosophical spice to satisfy readers who want more from crime than the usual procedural rollercoaster. He also stays alert to the law’s deviations from reality – not least in its jargon, that “foreign language” stuffed with “mysterious and ridiculous formulas”. In contrast, his own prose neatly switches between twist-packed plot-development, well-salted scenic (or culinary) interludes and clear-headed reflections on the fuzzy borderlands between law and justice. In his lecture, the judge had defined a middle way between the formalistic “rules of procedure” and a noble but fragile “romantic idea of justice”. In his bruised and wary fashion, Avvocato Guerrieri seeks exactly that. So, as the jailed mobsters of Bari can testify, did his creator.
Boyd Tonkinis senior writer and a columnist at the Independent, and that paper’s former literary editor. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel each year
Carofiglio’s fifth Guido Guerrieri novel (after 2011’sTemporary Affections) edges gracefully over the line from legal thriller into the realm of Paul Auster, as much a series of philosophical musings on life as a mystery. Guerrieri, a middle-aged lawyer in Bari, Italy, who spends more time eating well than drinking these days, hires attractive PI Annapaola Doria, a former freelance crime reporter, to help him defend a judge, Pierluigi Larocca, who’s charged with corruption. But the case against Larocca is incidental to Geurrieri’s thoughts on getting older, his witty observations of his colleagues (a legal trainee has the “expression of a psychotic pigeon”), and his struggle with his attraction to Annapaola. It’s a combination that works because of Guerrieri’s strong narrative voice and wry sense of humor. Readers looking for hard-boiled (or even soft-boiled) investigating might be disappointed—most of that’s handled off-page by Annapaola—but there are enough great courtroom cross-examination scenes to satisfy readers who want them. (May)
Is it a lawyer’s job to seek justice or defend his client? In the fifth Guido Guerrieri novel (following Temporary Perfections, 2011), the veteran avvocato knows it’s the latter but faces a strong test of his faith in the judicial system. A sharp-minded but solitary soul with a penchant for conversing with the punching bag hanging in his living room, Guido is approached by a prickly but highly respected judge who, to Guido’s surprise, has found himself under investigation for taking bribes. What follows is in some ways a legal procedural. As Guido undertakes the defense with almost too-easy success, Carofiglio’s deep knowledge of the law (he himself is a former anti-Mafia judge in the novel’s setting of Bari, Italy) is fully evident and interesting in its own right. But the author’s real interest is in larger questions of morality, ethics, personal codes, and responsibility to society. This dialogue-heavy novel moves at a languid pace, but thoughtful readers drawn to the theme and the Adriatic setting will find it just their cup of espresso.
When Judge Larocca is accused of corruption, Guerrieri goes against his better instincts and takes the case. Helped by Annapaola Doria, a motorbike-riding bisexual private detective who keeps a baseball bat on hand for sticky situations, he investigates the alleged links to the mafia. Of course Guerrieri cannot stop himself from falling for Annapaola's exotic charms. The fifth in the best-selling Guido Guerrieri series "A Fine Line" is another deftly crafted and consistently entertaining read from the pen of Gianrico Carofiglio. While very highly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, and for the personal reading lists of Gianrico's fans, it should be noted that "A Fine Line" is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.89).
Carofiglio is a lawyer (avvocato), past member of the Senate in Italy, and a former anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari, a port on the coast of Puglia in southern Italy – so already you know this story is going to be good if only Carofiglio can write. And Carofiglio can write molto bene.
Italians are unlike the Americans or the French or Brits or Germans, or just about anybody else in the world. And this is especially true of Italians from the south, as the charming books of Andrea Camilleri prove at least about the Sicilians.
In A Fine Line, Judge Pierluigi Larocca has been accused of corruption – taking money to drop criminal charges – so he engages the services of the successful, charming defense counsel Guido Guerrieri, who practices in Larocca’s court and cannot refuse the endorsement. The following story is full of hijinks, astute lawyering, clumsy reasoning, obvious everyday lies, and a rich palette of Italian posturing. This is one of the great glimpses into the absurdity of Italian life as seen through the microscope of the legal system. At 280 paperback pages, it ends too soon.