Sunday, February 5, 2012

Involuntary Witness

Involuntary Witness
Author: Gianrico Carofiglio (translated from Italian by Patrick Creagh)
Bitter Lemon, 2005
274 pages

Here's a book I noticed on the shelf in the library a few weeks ago without knowing anything about the author or series. Luckily, Involuntary Witness is the first of several books featuring Italian attorney Guido Guerrieri. From the opening pages, a couple of things are clear: Guido's not particularly happy, and he's entering that challenging phase of life known as mid-life crisis.

Guido doesn't seem to really enjoy his chosen profession. He seems lackadaisical about lots of things. At the office, he tends to ignore his assistant, and he often makes his clients wait. His similar lack of enthusiasm at home leads his wife to announce (to his surprise) that she wants a separation, and at this, Guido starts to fall apart at the seams.

But then he's visited by a student from Africa, who tells him about a friend of hers who desperately needs help. The friend -- Abdou Thiam, an immigrant from Senegal, has been imprisoned for the murder of a young Italian boy. Although he was a teacher in Senegal, Abdou is unable to get similar work in Italy so he peddles wares (including a few counterfeits) on the beach near Bari.

Upon visiting Abdou in prison, it's pretty clear to Guido that the man is not a killer. However, according to the Italian legal system, Abdou basically has two choices: 1) he can admit guilt and serve a shortened sentence; or 2) he can have a trial, which he'll probably lose, and spend the rest of his life in jail. Since Abdou maintains his innocence, he decides to risk a trial. As Guido works to free his client, he also attempts to put his personal life back in order.

Guido comes across as a guy who used to be a jerk, but has learned some very big lessons. Actually, he learns several (and somewhat redeems himself) in this book. That makes him a likeable character. He's also quite clever and creative, and the scenes involving some of his adventures can bring a smile to your face.

According to online sources, the author is a former judge in southern Italy (in Bari, the city where Involuntary Witness takes place). He obviously knows his way around the very complex legal system there. That the accused is a "non-European" (the term used in court) immigrant adds an additional level of complexity to this finely-told legal tale.

Another win for the library. Glad I picked this one up.