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Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio

Involuntary Witness (2002)

by Gianrico Carofiglio

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Guido Guerrieri (1)

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English (15)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All (22)
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INVOLUNTARY WITNESS opens with Bari-based lawyer Guido Guerrieri going through a rough period in his life. His wife has asked for a divorce and his reaction to that – or to life in general – has manifest itself physically by way of insomnia and sometimes embarrassing bouts of crying or panic. He does see a doctor about it all but ignores the advice (and medication) given and instead takes up boxing, something he used to do in his youth. Interspersed with Guerrieri’s personal travails are some minor legal matters that have nothing to do with the overall plot. Such as it is. Eventually we learn about the events described in the book’s blurb. Namely a young boy has been found dead on a Bari beach and a Senegalese man, Abdou Thiam, has been charged with his murder. When Guerrieri is introduced to the case there has already been an initial hearing with a court-appointed lawyer and no one, aside from the man’s few friends, believe anything more needs to be done other than lock him up and throwing away the key.

Although I’m not going to say much more about the plot details I should point out that it probably isn’t what you’re imagining right now. This is not an Italian version of a Grisham or Turow legal thriller. Guerrieri does not race about Bari looking for clues or alternative suspects. He makes a couple of moves that can, if you apply the same generously broad definition as earlier, be described as investigative but he’s no Perry Mason. At first this is a bit difficult to get used to – a matter of expectations I suppose – but Carofiglio does know how to tell a good story and I was utterly hooked. The final third is perhaps more traditionally procedural in that it takes us inside the courtroom but these scenes too are…unexpected…in tone and plotting. Guerrieri’s passionate defence of Abdou Thiam offers some nuanced insights into the Italian legal system, no doubt benefiting from its author’s experience as a legal practitioner himself, and an incisive commentary on human nature.

The characterisation of Guerrieri is, ultimately, well-rounded though at first it seemed as if it would not be. I would have liked to learn a little more about some of the other people, especially Abdou Thiam, though his depiction is deftly handled even if we do not spend enough time with him for my liking.

My only real gripe with the novel is probably an issue with the translation rather than the original text though I guess I’ll never know. The ‘N’ word is used repeatedly to refer to the many African immigrants in Bari and Abdou Thiam in particular and I found this very jarring (particularly as I was listening to the audio version not reading the printed word). I don’t know if there is an Italian word of similar meaning but with (hopefully) less stigma attached or not, but either way I find it difficult to believe an alternative word, even a derogatory one in keeping with the context, was impossible to find. I cannot imagine this particular translation choice being acceptable to the American market at all and am surprised it was seen as such for the UK one.

That issue aside I thoroughly enjoyed INVOLUNTARY WITNESS, not least because it repeatedly confounded my expectations for a ‘legal procedural’ and ultimately offered a fascinating social and legal commentary. Its resolution would not sit well with those who dislike loose ends but I thought it fit the rest of the story admirably. Sean Barrett is one of my favourite audio narrators and, again, does a great job with this story.
  bsquaredinoz | Aug 12, 2017 |
Bello, solido, vero - pensare che è un'opera prima fa ben sperare. Un giallo, umanista e italiano [raro trovare queste tre parole assieme], che spiega anche come funziona parte della giustizia in Italia - oltre che rendere bene l'idea di un avvocato di sinistra alle prese con il suo mestiere e la sua vita privata. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Buon libro, di lettura scorrevole e piacevole, un po' debole a mio avviso nei dialoghi che risultano a volte poco naturali - vabbè, lo so, scrivere buoni dialoghi è difficilissimo - e con qualche luogo comune sparso qua e là. Comunque da leggere (se capita). ( )
  gfonte | Mar 15, 2014 |
troubled lawyer, emerging from breakup, emerging from alcoholic pit, takes up defense of an African immigrant accused of kidnapping and murdering a 9 y/o boy ( )
  DavidO1103 | Jan 18, 2014 |
"Whole worlds pass by us and we don't notice." Guido Guerrieri is an Italian advocate just coming out of a rough patch of depression. His wife has left him and he's just been struggling along until he's assigned the case of an African immigrant accused of killing a young boy. Abdou Thiam, the client, absolutely refuses to settle in spite of overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him. So the case goes to trial. The trial has a surface appearance of fairness, but at its core there is a subtext of racism that reminds us of sham trials of blacks in the U.S. After all, all those "niggers" look the same, as one of the witnesses insists. The trial revolves around the concept of involuntary falsehood., i.e. can a witness not lie, yet tell an untruth. It's a concept that involves memory, false memory, manipulation of memory, and what how much of what we see is merely a confirmation of what we have already decided the truth to be. As the Chinese say, two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes.
Those who dislike legal dramas heavy on courtroom settings will be disappointed. I love those kinds of scenes so this book really held my interest.

Very interesting legal drama that reveals some of the similarities and differences between the American and Italian legal system. Clearly the pressure to settle and plead out a case is tremendous. The cost of a trial, the "discount" in the sentence available to those who plead, the time required; all conspire to encourage everyone, even the innocent, to "cop" a plea.

I will certainly read/listen to more in the series. Very ably read as always by Sean Barrett. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Oct 8, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gianrico Carofiglioprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gerritsen, RobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jansen, JanineCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I well remember the day -- or rather the afternoon -- before it all began.
What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly (Lao-Tzu)
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A Senegalese immigrant in southern Italy is accused of murdering a nine-year-old child. A lost cause taken on by a seemingly hopeless counsel for the defence.

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