Translated by Howard Curtis — Guido Guerrieri is a lawyer of middle years who practices in Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. In this, Gianrico Carofiglio’s sixth legal thriller featuring Guerrieri, a case with uncomfortable links to the protagonist’s past finds its way to his door.
A woman named Lorenza Delle Foglie asks him to handle the appeal against her son’s conviction for first degree murder. Decades before, when Guerrieri was in his 20s and still in training, he had a love affair with Lorenza. She was older than he, and at the time their relationship was the centre of his life. Not hers, though. She was mysterious, would show up unexpectedly, and what she did between their meetings was an unknown he never dared probe. The sex was great, and she introduced him to literature and philosophy – heady discussions for a young man. Then, for no particular reason he ever learned, she dropped him.
Now her son, a small-time criminal, has been convicted of murdering a drug dealer. The lawyer who represented him at his original trial has died, and the appeal hearing is imminent. Lorenza turns to Guerrieri for help. The deceased had an illustrious legal career, but he was aging and a few years past his prime. When Guerrieri and his team review the case evidence and trial transcript, they feel pretty confident the son Iacopo is guilty, but it’s also true that not much of a defense was mounted on his behalf.
There are leads that weren’t followed up, and Guerrieri hopes he and his investigators can make the most of them, at least enough to convince the judges and jury that the prosecution’s version of events is not the only reasonable one. Doubt will be their friend. Guerrieri’s first impression of the young man, when he meets him in prison, is not favourable. However, as they continue to meet over time, they come to more of a mutual understanding. Still, the son won’t reveal some details that would be helpful in his defense.
Chapters about the investigation, which nobody on the team seems to have much enthusiasm for, alternate with chapters in which Guerrieri looks back at his and Lorenza’s long-ago relationship. Guerrieri’s team might engaged with the case more if he makes them aware of the connection between him and Lorenza, but he doesn’t. He uses his reflections on Lorenza as an opportunity to philosophise and demonstrate how some of his attitudes have evolved over nearly 30 years. These sections of the book seem to drag, but you may take a different few.
Part of the problem is that Guerrieri and Lorenza aren’t that interesting as a romantic couple. She comes across as a bloodless sort and is intellectually pretentious. Guerrieri can see that now, but didn’t then, and when she ended the relationship – not with any big dramatic scene, of course, not her style, but simply by no longer making herself available – he was quite hurt for a time. Now he’s in a much healthier relationship with his investigator, Annapaola. In fact, his whole team is more interesting than Lorenza.
When the case finally comes to court, the proceedings are rather staid. The judge is even-handed and only slightly impatient. The shrill female prosecutor appears not a bit worried that the original verdict will be upended. As a result, there’s a lack of narrative energy to that aspect of the story, as well. Lorenza greatly improves her testimony, compared to the original, and Guerrieri has done pretty much all the preparation he can.
I really liked Carofiglio’s thriller The Cold Summer, not part of this series, about a case that took place around the dangerous time the Italian prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were murdered by the Mafia. That was a time of intense turmoil and social reflection, which made every decision by the authorities that much more consequential and, therefore, dramatic, in contrast to this book.
Once again, Howard Curtis translated Carofiglio’s work, and he does so seamlessly. You’re not aware, really, that it even is a translation. Nice work.
Bitter Lemon Press
CFL Rating: 3 Stars