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      Gianrico Carofiglio: A Fine Line.       

Bitter Lemon Press       £8.99.

            

‘Beware the world is so constructed today that no one can do what he would like to do.’

This quote by Italian novelist Alberto Moravia is not mentioned by Guido Guerrieri, the counsel for defence and hero in the latest thriller by Gianrico Carofiglio.  There are, though, plenty of quotes in ‘A Fine Line’.  Guerrieri is not only an accomplished counsel.  He reads and thinks.  Smells evoke the past but he is far too civilised to mention Proust.  He does quote Leonard Cohen.  Well, no one is perfect.  The included quotes from Scott Fitzgerald and Dostoyevsky are obvious perhaps but relevant.  As Guerrieri understands, the ability of people to live with contradiction and deceive themselves has consequences for everyone.

The books of Carofiglio are more rueful meditation than the parched Italian existentialism of Moravia. Like the popular fictional Italian detective, Inspector Montalbano, the hero of ‘A Fine Line’ has delicate taste, appreciates good food, keeps his body in shape and manages to appeal to beautiful women half his age.  ‘A Fine Line’ may be an entertaining and readable diversion but Guerrieri is not a super hero.  His relationship with the beautiful woman is male fantasy but it does have surprises.  And Guerrieri is willing to share his flaws.  His existence is controlled by fate and his society.  He is proof that there is nothing that makes us more solitary than our conscience.  The cultural memories of Guerrieri are not just evidence of his search for truth and understanding but exist as an alternative secret wisdom that he needs to keep him intact.  He may be a windbag who likes the sound of his own voice but this makes him human and a believable narrator.  All this is in the tradition of Italian crime fiction and according to the same tradition the plot is not hurried.

The core plot concerns a judge who is charged with corruption.  The author worked as a prosecutor against organised crime and was appointed advisor of the anti-Mafia committee in the Italian Parliament in 2007.  ‘A Fine Line’ benefits from both practical expertise and self-awareness.  Because of both, Carofiglio reveals not only how the corrupt justify their behaviour and are self-important but how the impact of corruption soils the conscience of the comfortable pragmatists; those whose well-paid and often demanding jobs help maintain the system.

Carofiglio is excellent on court procedures.  The cross examination of the rape victim at the beginning of the book is convincing and well done.  For those not familiar with legal thrillers ‘A Fine Line’ is a good place to begin.  It provides an insight into the Italian legal process and demonstrates how prescribed procedure, as much as the outcomes, is important for meaning and fragile identity.

Italy expanded rapidly in the 1960s.  Any visitor to an Italian city will feel as if he or she is in two separate realities, the classical and the modern.  Carofiglio describes the urban alternatives well.  The different worlds of Italy may be why Italian crime fiction refuses to focus on the story and likes to wander, and why it requires sophisticated but unsure heroes as guides.

 

By Howard Jackson.