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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Involuntary Witness (2002) by Gianrico Carofiglio

(18. – 650.) Involuntary Witness (2002) by Gianrico Carofiglio – Avvocato Guido Guerrieri is in a deep deep funk. His partner, Sara, has ended their relationship. He cannot sleep. His attention to work is minimal. He is barely functioning. At 39 his life is a mess. He starts to resurrect himself by resuming a passion of his youth – boxing.

Into his professional life comes an African lady, Abajaje Deheba, who asks him to defend her friend, a Senegalese peddler, Abdou Thiam, who has been charged with murdering a 9 year old boy, Francesco Rubino known as Ciccio, near Bari, Italy. Previous counsel has made a perfunctory effort at defence and she is searching for another defence lawyer. Guido meets with Abdou and decides to review the evidence.

Guido sees the prosecutor and reads the assembled evidence. It appears Italian police reports are as ritualistic and laden with jargon as Canadian reports. The reports read authentically though I found they slowed the book by their length. I would have preferred excerpts and then summaries.

After completing his review Guido decides to take on the defence though there is little money available to pay him and Guido puts the chances of success at 5 – 10%..

There is heavy pressure on Guido and Abdou to accept the shortened procedure and accept a plea deal rather than proceed to trial and risk a life sentence. Abdou declines and the charges proceed to trial.

Guido, rousing himself from his torpor, prepares for the trial carefully weighing and assessing the evidence.

His professional recovery is ahead of his personal life especially in relationships.

The trial is the best part of the book. Unfamiliar with Italian court procedure I found it interesting to see the cut and thrust of cross-examination and argument. It was closer to a Canadian trial than I had expected.

Guido is a skilled observer of human nature:

“A person’s laugh is important because you can’t cheat. To know if someone is genuine or fake, the only sure way is to watch – and listen to – his laugh. People who are really worthwhile are the ones who know how to laugh.”

In the trial Guido skillfully defends his foreign client. It is obvious Italian society looks far down upon the African immigrants trying to make a better life in Italy.

I was initially irritated over Guido’s attitude towards his clients. He speaks of discomfort in representing low lifes and other forms of criminal. Do not become a defence counsel if you only want to represent people such as Abdou. As the book continued I thought better of Guido as a defence lawyer.

It was not a major problem but I did not find the evidence against Abdou as overwhelming as presented in the book. To have a real discussion in a review would be to give away too much of the book. If a reader of the blog wants further thoughts on the issue they can email me. It is a challenge for writers of legal mysteries to have enough evidence to make the charges credible but not so strong as to make an acquittal incredible. Scott Turow is one of the best at striking that balance.

I am going to look for the next in the series. I want to see how Guido progresses as a lawyer and Carofiglio, described as an anti-Mafi judge in every description of him, as a writer. (Apr. 8/12)


  1. Bill - I agree completely that Turow does that very well. Of course, I'm not a legal expert, but his work certainly strikes me that way.

    I'm glad you liked this novel enough to look for the next. Guido Geurrieri is I think a fascinating character and I was very interested in reading your impressions of the way an Italian trial compares to what happens in a Canadian court.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am interested in seeing where Guido goes with his legal career. He is a talented trial lawyer.

  3. I very much liked this novel, and his next two in the series. (Not so much the fourth one, in which I found the author far too approving of sexual exploitation of young teenage girls).

    I like the way in this book that the character of Guido starts out as rather selfish and unpleasant but learns from life! I also like the reading/books element.

    I can't comment on the authenticity of the trial procedures but the Italian system is totally chaotic as I know from Italian scientist friends. Really awful - eg in one case the prosecutor was married to the judge! I don't imagine anyone would have thought they needed much evidence to convict a person such as the accused in this novel. Sadly.

  4. Maxine: Thanks for the comment. It appears from your comment that the standard of proof for conviction is more modest in Italy than in Anglo/American justice.

    Reading about the Amanda Knox trial and appeal supports your thoughts on a chaotic Italian justice system.

  5. This book opened my eyes to the inequities in the Italian justice system, especially damaging to defendants.

    The way the prosecution carried out the trial of Amanda Knox was horrifying and Medieval, not to mention incredibly sexist -- and very undemocratic.

    It was a revelation to me that the criminal justice system in the States has evolved past the one in Italy, with more rights for defendants before and during trials.

    Carofiglio explains well how the system there works, with a sympathetic defendant and attorney.

  6. kathy d: Thanks for the comment. The Italian judicial system does not appear to have advanced to the 21st Century. I expect it worked well a couple of hundred years ago.

  7. My question is has it evolved since Galileo was kept under house arrest for his astronomical discoveries?

  8. kathy d.: I say it has involved. With a good lawyer you have a chance of acquittal.