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Measure of Time Reviews

Carofiglio’s background as an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari is even more in evidence in this story, a court-room mystery in which series hero Guido Guerrieri (somewhat reluctantly) agrees to act as defence in the appeal against a murder conviction against the son of Carofiglio’s long ago ex-lover. First, could this son be his own? No, the affair was over by the time the young man would have been conceived. Second, will an appeal even be granted? The case is thin and the original verdict, even to Carofiglio, seems sound. Third, should he get involved in a case with such personal undertones?

Spoiler alert, he does. And it isn’t easy. The young man is a known petty criminal; he recently quarrelled with the victim over a drugs deal; and when picked up shortly after the murder he is found to have gunshot residue on his jacket. Oh, and Carofiglio doesn’t like him. Few people do. But please, asks his mother, Carofiglio’s ex-lover (who is now aged about sixty, so the affair’s not likely to be revived; it isn’t that sort of story).

You’ll learn plenty about Italian legal procedure and tricks of the legal trade, tricks also that you yourself can apply to winning arguments and persuading others to say what they didn’t mean to say (or not to say what you don’t want them to say) and, a growing trend in crime books of recent decades, some interesting Italian recipes you can try in your own kitchen at home.” SHOTS EZINE



“Crime novelist Gianrico Carofiglio is a former anti-mafia prosecutor from southern Italy. His popular character Guido Guerrieri, based in the port city of Bari on the Adriatic Sea, is a principled and intelligent lawyer who is mad about books. Throughout “The Measure of Time” (Bitter Lemon, 285 pages, $15.95), translated by Howard Curtis, the avvocato keeps a volume at hand to fill any downtime in court—Kafka’s aphorisms, for instance, or “Tristram Shandy,” which Guido judges “a very great novel of digressions.” 

Fittingly, Mr. Carofiglio’s sixth series entry features a number of digressive sidebars, as when Guido implores a group of young magistrates to “take nourishment from good stories. . . . Because it’s the art of the storyteller that reminds us that there is not just one single answer to human dilemmas.”

Guido himself is faced with a vexing problem when Lorenza, a woman he last saw three decades ago, asks him to represent her 25-year-old son, Iacopo, in the imminent appeal of his conviction for the murder of a drug dealer. Guido judges the young man’s previous counsel, who has recently died, to have been “an excellent professional, until disease had eaten his brain,” and there are signs the deceased gave Iacopo an inadequate defense. On the other hand, the evidence against the accused was strong, even if the police never considered the possibility of another culprit. 

Guido accepts the case. As he and his team explore the evidence from every angle, the lawyer-narrator also reconstructs his faded memories of his affair with Lorenza, a time he sees in retrospect as “a mosaic of elusiveness,” a collection of meetings “shrouded in mystery.” Guido, given his past involvement with his client’s mother, strives for an emotionally unambiguous verdict: “I wanted [Iacopo] to be acquitted, and I wanted to know he was innocent. Both these things.”  

Mr. Carofiglio, drawing on his own professional background, excels at describing everyday legal proceedings in ways that transfix the reader. Avvocato Guerrieri is merciless in his critiques of associates. Of a supercilious judge: “In all that he said, did and wrote—including his rulings—there was a hint of condescension.” Of an inferior advocate: “A person for whom the definition of idiot was needlessly charitable. I wouldn’t even have given him the role of a lawyer in a school play.” To his anxious client who asks, “But is there any hope?,” a sympathetic Guido answers: “We aren’t the favorite team in this championship, but we have a shot.”  Wall Street Journal




"Deceptively simple and thought-provoking, Gianrico Carofiglio’s The Measure of Time is a compelling trial tale shot-through with the distinctly contemplative personality of its flawed, charismatic protagonist, defence attorney Guerrieri.

“Time accelerates with age, they say. The thought wasn’t a new one, but that day it had been bouncing around unpleasantly.” So observes Guerrieri on the very day he comes face to face with the passage of time when a lover from his past asks him to represent her son. Their relationship ended decades ago, abruptly, when she simply stopped contacting him. Back then, Lorenza was stunning and offered him an enigmatic glimpse into the possibilities of living a bohemian life. “The encounter between Lorenza and me changed my life. I’m sure it didn’t change hers,” he recalls in typically reflective, shrug-of-the-shoulders style. “She had been my involuntary mentor, the woman who had distractedly accompanied me through a metaphorical wood for a few months.”

When Lorenza unexpectedly reappears, Guerrieri is shocked by how much she’s aged, and it’s now her who needs him. Her son Iacopo has been convicted of murdering a local drug dealer, and the lawyer representing his appeal has recently died. What’s more, there’s evidence to suggest the lawyer didn’t do all he could to defend Iacopo in the original trial. Though not entirely convinced of his innocence, Guerrieri takes on the case, with meticulous attention to the philosophical fundaments of the justice system while also contemplating his youth and formative relationship with Lorenza. I was utterly gripped by the intricacies of the trial and by Guerrieri’s personal realisations - this is crime fiction at its most captivating." LoveReading


“In The Measure of Time by Gianrico Carofiglio (Bitter Lemon, £8.99, translated by Howard Curtis), defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri is commissioned by an ex-lover to help her son who has been convicted of murder, but finds himself distracted by thoughts of mortality. Carofiglio has written more beguiling entries for his saturnine lawyer, but admirers will find all the correct buttons pressed here.’ Financial Times


"This is Gianrico Carofiglio’s latest outing for his campaigning lawyer, Guido Guerrieri from Puglia (his name implies ‘warrior’). We left him in A Fine Line (reviewed here in May 2016) musing ruefully and bitterly on the ethics of the legal profession; now we find him world-weary and alienated even further from the routine of the courtroom and the processes of the law: just reading the paperwork fills him with ‘a sense of nausea … getting slowly but inexorably worse.’ One should, he thinks, be able to die young, ‘not in the sense of really dying, but … stopping what we’re doing when we realise we’ve exhausted our desire to do it … Anything just to escape the grip of time.’

Into this maelstrom of self-doubt and ennui steps Lorenza Delle Foglie, a former lover, an older woman who initiated Guerrieri into great sex and great literature many years earlier, only to toss him aside and vanish from his life. Her reappearance disturbs him, and not only for the less-than-happy memories it awakens. She wants him to take on an appeal against her son’s conviction for murdering a small-time drug dealer. The son’s original lawyer – supposedly the best – has since died of an unspecified illness that affected his handling of the case. 

Lorenza is convinced, indeed ‘knows’, her son is innocent; Guerrieri is not convinced: ‘if we always believed the nearest and dearest, the crime of homicide…would vanish from the statistics.’ And it’s more than just a personal dilemma. A conference with his legal team convinces him that the case is going to be one of the most difficult of his career. 

This double dilemma provokes some of Carofiglio’s most profound reflections on the roles of judges, prosecutors, and especially defence counsel in the Italian system. In the guise of a lecture by Guerrieri to trainee magistrates, his philosophising, in which he quotes from Hobbes, Bentham and Norberto Bobbio, among many, suggest his arguments are just as relevant to any socio-legal system anywhere, including our own here in Britain. How is it, he wonders, that we give jurists the power to decide the ‘freedom and destiny of another man’? Do they treat this power with circumspection? Or do people ‘become files and papers, and in this there’s an element of terrible brutality’. Jurists, he argues, have to spend much of their time doing things that seem to have little to do with the law, like ‘reading good novels, watching good films … because it’s the art of the storyteller that reminds us that there is not just one single answer to human dilemmas. [They] are inevitably ambiguous.’

So legal conflicts often reflect moral dilemmas, and Guerrieri asks his audience if they’ve ever asked themselves which of our present-day beliefs will be rejected by future generations. 

The relationship of these powerful arguments to the case at the centre of this story becomes clear: those who sit in judgement have to find solutions, ‘but we need to be aware that the ability to find answers and solutions to conflicts is based on our ability to live with uncertainty, with the opaqueness of reality.’

So much, then, for the solemn pronouncement of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, whether by an Italian magistrate or a British jury! The problem is, according to Guerrieri, that all people tend to reject the positions and opinions of others in situations of contention … and none more so than Lorenza Delle Foglie. So he has to argue from her and her son’s point of view, even though he knows it’s as likely or not to be the wrong one.

This debate, like others in the earlier Carofiglio novels, makes up a significant part of the story – as always superbly translated by Howard Curtis; but it is no way a rambling monologue: without it, this book would not be the great read that it is. Carofiglio has a fine mind and a gift for storytelling, and this debate has a depth and relevance that underpins the narrative and leads in hindsight, inexorably, to the devastating conclusion. 

Gianrico Carofiglio has of late, in addition to fiction, turned to political analysis in a series of published conversations with the journalist Jacopo Rosatelli. Their theme is based on George Orwell’s division of political thinkers into ‘the Utopian with his head in the clouds and the Realist with his feet in the mud’. It’s manifest from Guerrieri’s musings which of the two most corresponds to where Carofiglio stands. There is a feeling of finality in The Measure of Time, a sense that Guerrieri has reached a point of no return, which makes me wonder if he is about to take his final bow – or maybe he already has?  RivetingReviews ELN (Max Easterman)




Between the lines – The Measure of Time and Gianrico Carofiglio’s  underrated genius: 
“Most of the cases of Guido Guerrieri, the defence lawyer hero of Gianrico Carofiglio’s tales from contemporary Bari, start on a bit of a downer. The  latest to appear in English, The Measure of Time, is no exception. Guerrieri, in many ways the author’s alter ego, is called on by an old girlfriend who wants him to help in the near hopeless case of her son’s  appeal against a murder conviction. The son is a mess, the case is a mess, and police, public prosecution and  judges won’t budge. So far, so downbeat. The whole story of tangled lives, legal misdirection, crossed destinies and life in downtown Bari is a joy. This is one of Carofiglio very best crime novels, and it leads into a series of other short stories and essays, which should be published in  English post-haste.

Gianrico Carofiglio was a distinguished investigating magistrate – and  cracked some of the biggest recent Mafia cases in Puglia. He served a full  five year term as a Senator in the Rome parliament – an experience he told  me he is desperate never to repeat. Guerrieri came along as an outlet to  his literary bent. Both he and his brother are successfully involved in  films, theatre and opera.

 Avvocato Guerrieri is a gregarious loner, wandering through old Bari – the  shadow and mirror image of his creator, the defence lawyer matching the prosecutor. In the physical setting and ambiance of the action, these  stories are among the best of contemporary fiction. The evocation of Bari  is more than a match for the Sicily of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano  and the dark Naples conjured by Maurizio De Giovanni.  Sometimes, the author and his creation seem to work as close companions,  but other times, they become estranged. “I got fed up with Guido at one  point,” Gianrico told me a few years back. “I thought he was being far too  successful with his girlfriends, and I was having a really low time.”

 The outcome of the case is almost incidental to the story in the Guerrieri chronicles. They all turn on perception, how we see the truth, interpret the law in terms of justice, exchange views, share experiences, inquire  and empathise. In his investigations into the quirks of the law, in terms  of jurisprudence and the procedures and foibles of criminal investigation  by police and the magistracy, admirers such as Jeffery Deaver and Scott Turrow believe Carofilgio is unrivalled.

 The new story, which is elegantly translated by Howard Curtis, focuses as  much on what happened to the relationship with the old girlfriend, Lorenza  delle Foglie, as much as the business of getting her son Jacopo off the  murder rap. Both are a story of time and timing. What has happened since the part-time lovers parted? Why do the police and  prosecution insist on a particular timetable for the son Jacopo murdering  his friend, a drug dealer, in his flat in broad daylight – not bothering  to conceal his arrival and departure?

 The police have a telephone tap of Jacopo rowing over a mobile phone with  the drug dealer, just a few hours before the latter is shot. That’s good  enough, and they are not prepared to accept any alternative hypothesis. The cops and Pubblico Ministero – the prosecution office – suffer according to Carofiglio/Guerrieri from “cognitive tunnelism” – they just cannot think round their case, and see it a broader and more plausible setting – though there is good reason to do so.

In a wonderful digression Guerrieri takes a morning out of the case to give a lecture to a course of trainee magistrates on the complexities and ambiguities of building a defence case. He tells the graduate class you have to see all round the case, at all possible and impossible scenarios, and then persuade the court of the subtleties and nuances of the story.  In his digressions and sallies, he is like a good companion in one of Bari’s downtown bars telling you a glorious shaggy dog story. Not for nothing  does Guerrieri show up in the office one morning with a well-thumbed copy of Tristram Shandy, the greatest shaggy dog story in literature. Carofiglio has the same ambling conversational style as Sterne. He is  talking to you, catching your eye and ear with a telling detail. Talking  to him on the phone last week was like joining a discussion in one of the  stories and essays.

The outcome of the Jacopo murder story is almost incidental to the  narrative of the book – no spoiler alert needed. The big mystery is the relationship with Lorenza, at once attractive, cultivated, well-travelled, mysterious. And yet, after a good measure of time, a colossal bore. Her knowledge of philosophy and literature is broad and discursive. She is a rotten conversationalist though, because everything has to be stated in clear, binary, Manichean, terms – good, bad, black, white, sufferable and  insufferable. She cannot accept nuance, ambivalence, alternative viewpoints – no more than the police and PM prosecutor in her son’s case. This is the fulcrum of the whole book, and Carofiglio’s recent essays. Borrowing a phrase from the brilliant David Foster Wallace, Guerrieri  accuses Lorenza of being an ‘ambiguophobe.’

 “Appreciating ambiguity, the context to the arguments of others is  essential to understanding and civilized politics today,” Gianrico explained in our recent telephone conversation. “Too often dialogue turns  to a statement of rejection and insult. It gets you nowhere. You have to  learn where those you are questioning are coming from. This is a real problem today,” he says. The cradle of civilized exchange and discussion in Guerrieri’s Bari is an all-night café and book shop called L’Osteria del Caffellatte run by a character named Ottavio. Ottavio is a chronic insomniac and runs the shop as a refuge for itinerant litterateurs and street philosophers. At a low  point in the Jacopo case, Guerrieri calls in for a pit stop of  consolation. Ottavio introduces him to an old friend, an alternative  therapist. The old man snorts at the description, then admits to being a  “philosopho – therapist”. He prescribes specific texts to people in low  case. Favourites are Pyrrho and Montaigne – but for the really defeated, nothing beats Aristotle for “learning to exercise the ethical muscles”.

An appreciation of ambiguity, now a major theme exhorted by the likes of Carlo Rovelli and Martha Lane Fox, is not an invitation to passivity and inaction – quite the opposite. It should encourage one to act out of  character if need be, says Guerrieri/Carofiglio, to act courageously,  altruistically in the cause of truth, even if it is likely against one’s immediate interest.

Ambiguity and empathy are major themes in the latest story of Carofiglio’s other brilliant creation in stories about contemporary Bari. Pietro Fenoglio is a melancholic senior Carabinieri detective, a Maresciallo who never wears a uniform. He is based on a young Carabiniere Carofiglio once met during the investigation of a particularly difficult Mafia case – “he was perhaps the best read cop in uniform I ever met,” he told me. A  fictionalized version of the case is told in The Cold Summer, which was a  bestseller two years ago.

Last year Fenoglio starred in a novella Fenoglio’s Version (La Versione di  Fenoglio), which is yet to appear in English. Let’s hope it is translated  soon because it is an ideal companion to The Measure of Time. It is a  novella with a difference because it is really an elegant essay on the  arts of investigation and inquiry, of understanding truth and empathy.  Fenoglio is undergoing a course of heavy duty physiotherapy – he feels broken down and surely near the end of his active service with L’Arma (the Force) – which, by the way, he feels in every one of his stories. His companion is a young man recovering from a major car crash. He beguiles his young friend with his views on the arts of investigation and understanding, through a series of stories of his life as a lead detective in Bari. I am pretty convinced that each anecdote has a base in  fact. The wisdom and aphorisms make a brilliant breviary of instruction – of value to anyone staring out in journalism or public life today. In my virtual library it sits alongside brilliant manuals of common sense such as Orwell’s Why I Write and The Historian’s Craft by Marc Bloch.

In questioning a suspect, or in general dialogue, explains Fenoglio, you must be careful to allow the other person to explain how they see their story, the setting and circumstances of their narrative in their own terms – whether true or false. Here Carrofiglio returns to one of his great topics which was the title of probably the most successful Avvocato Guerriglieri stories – the phenomenon of Involuntary False Witness. This is where a suggested narrative of events becomes so familiar that the protagonist believes it, however false it may be. This bedevils broadcast journalism interviews nowadays as much as it does police and forensic investigation. The witness or accused is given a set  of events that sound so familiar, so plausible, they are convinced that it  cannot be otherwise. In UK journalism, we would loosely call it ‘suggestibility’, but in the Fenoglio and Carofiglio version it is something more powerful and insidious.

Rereading Fenoglio’s warning that an investigator should avoid leading a witness with his interpretation of a narrative – because that will condition, most likely irreversibly, what the witness gives back, I realised I could never listen to most broadcast interviews in the same way again. The loaded questions and emotional bias of interviews on the likes of the Today programme or Newsnight are open invitations to involuntary false witness.

The Fenoglio Version was followed last year by a brilliant nonfiction companion On Kindness and Courage – a breviary on politics and other things. Here the notion of kindness and understanding, of tolerance, courage and understanding are brought up to date, the era post Trump and in the middle of Covid. Trump is dispatched swiftly – “he was a great manipulator, not communicator, because he encouraged his base to bury their fear in hate. All with the vocabulary of a ten-year old.” The essay on stupidity is equally mordant. He argues stupid people cannot entertain argument, ambiguity and alternatives, and they always have to show they are right. Honestly I can’t look at certain Home Affairs front benchers with a straight face again.

The last essay in this short book, Kindness and Sense is a jewel. It is a scintillating update of Voltaire’s On Tolerance. The essence of kindness and sense was shown by Lincoln in establishing rapport and then friendship with his erstwhile foe Frederick Douglass. “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better,” Lincoln is alleged to have said. He concludes with a touch of Montaigne. “We don’t conduct ourselves with  kindness and courage because it looks good. We act with kindness and courage because we are members of the human race.”

So is this the end for Carofiglio’s alter egos Pietro Fenoglio and Guido Gueriglieri? Both are masters of the world weary put down – as deadly with a quip of philosophy as Philip Marlow with a gun in his left hand. The good news is that we are not quite on the last reel in  this movie. “Fenoglio is always in the margin, a figure ‘un po’ del crepuscolo’ (twilight). He is going to have another story, a resumé of his most tricky cases. I would like to put his books, long and short, into one omnibus. There’s another Guerrieri , too, but I think it will be the last.” These are to be looked forward to. But the latest three show a writer at the top of his art – and with Guerrieri and Fenoglio he has taken a  familiar literary genre, twisted it and made it absolutely his own.” REACTION (Robert Fox)



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  • Gianrico CarofiglioThe Measure of Time