If someone mentions Italian Crime Fiction, the chances are your first thought will be ‘Mafia’ - or if not that, then it would be about the Vatican. Perhaps both. At least, that’s what I would have thought before reading this deep and absorbing legal thriller. However, even though Carofiglio knows a thing or two about the Mafia, having been an anti-Mafia prosecutor for many years, he soon shows us that there’s a lot of other crime happening in Italy!
It took me a few pages to get used to the style and flow of the words – perhaps because it’s translated from Italian – but once over that minor hurdle I became deeply immersed in the story of Guido Guerrieri, a lawyer trying to defend an apparently hopeless case whilst also dealing with some deep personal issues.
In fact the personal issues take up the whole of the first section of the book. Because it’s so well written, and because Guerrieri is an engaging character who you want to know more about, this is not a hardship. But I did wonder what the point of this was, and how it fitted in to the rest of the story.
As things move on, and the legal case develops, Guerrieri digs deep into the evidence and into the complexities of the Italian court system to develop his case for the defence. But developments in his personal life are also woven smoothly into the plot.
It wasn’t until the end, though, that I finally realised that this was not just for character development (important though that is). It was what the novel is really about – this crisis of Guerrieri’s life, which runs parallel to the courtroom drama but which started before it and continues afterwards. With that new perspective, the purpose and importance of the opening section became clear. It’s essential groundwork for the story which develops to a powerful and poignant conclusion.
All in all, ‘Involuntary Witness’ is a surprisingly deep, often fascinating and beautifully told story. I got the next in the series as soon as I could!
(My thanks to the International Crime Readers Club at Waterstone's, Bath, for introducing me to this author).