Carofiglio, Gianrico - 'Reasonable Doubts' (translated by Howard Curtis)
REASONABLE DOUBTS is the third Guido Guerrieri novel from Carofiglio, and, pleasingly, is every bit as good as the first two. The novel begins with Guerrieri being asked to tackle the appeal of Fabio Paolicelli, who has been sentenced to 16 years after a large quantity of drugs was found in his car on re-entry into the country. Paolicelli has a past as a neo-Fascist, and also initially confessed to the crime - though he later claims this was only in order to stop the police detaining his wife as well. Guerrieri is initially reluctant to take on the case: he and the defendant were involved in an incident in their youth which still leaves Guido bitter. However, Paolicelli seems not this specific incident from his violent past, and eventually, after a visit from his beautiful wife, Guerrieri starts working on the case, despite his best instincts and his previous resolution not to.
I think these snappy legal thrillers of Carofiglio's are almost certainly the best series being published by Bitter Lemon Press. They have intelligent and gripping qualities that make them stand out from the pack. They're short, focused, powerful, and humane. I wish there were more of them.
REASONABLE DOUBTS may not be better than A WALK IN THE DARK (it's not quite as brave, plot-wise), but it's certainly just as good, and both are a little more polished than the first. There are three standout elements: the breezy, clear way Carofiglio conveys Italian legal procedure, the philosophical and moral tusslings, and the protagonist, Guerrieri, who this time around is a good man aware that he's doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Carofiglio's portrayal of his protagonist's occupational and moral conflicts is also done superbly well, initially. However, it does sort of drop off towards the second half (when the plot necessarily takes over), and less is made of the past meeting between lawyer and defendant than it perhaps could have been. It's a plot thread I might have liked to see more of. However, that being said, Carofiglio is a writer who seems to prefer intelligent and telling pen-and-ink lines than detail and exploration, leaving the reader to do some work, and that's where a lot of the impressive pace comes from.
Carofiglio is a writer with a wonderful eye for grey areas, moral conflicts and conundrums, and the resulting muddle of human motives, and through these he teases out the admirable character of his protagonist. He has real depth, real nuance, and displays the realistic complex web of human behaviour. (Though, while his protagonist has real depth and character, Carofiglio doesn't really spend the time to invest his relationships with other characters with similar depth, and the books have a heavy protagonist-centric feel, though this in itself is not a bad thing.) His legal endeavours on behalf of his client are engaging and gripping, and seem to have as much verisimilitude as any writer of legal thrillers currently at work.
In short, Carofiglio writes intelligent, gripping yet parsimoniously philosophical thrillers with an immensely appealing lead character, and REASONABLE DOUBTS is another of these. They deserve to sell in very large numbers indeed.
Read another review of REASONABLE DOUBTS.
Fiona Walker, England