Italian books: Involuntary Witness
- WTI Magazine #169 Nov 17, 2023
Gianrico Carofiglio (1961) is a widely known Italian author. Before engaging in literary activity, he was the Anti-Mafia Deputy Prosecutor in Bari, a port on the coast of Puglia. During this time, he has taken part in trials regarding corruption, organized crime, and the trafficking of human beings.
Then, in 2002 he published his first book – Involuntary Witness (Testimone Inconsapevole) – introducing the legal-thriller genre in Italy and its main character, the lawyer Guido Guerrieri. After this one, he went on to write further stories about this protagonist, as well as several papers and a novel about Bari, the city where he is from, and Southern Italy.
The books belonging to the series about Guido Guerrieri have all been bestsellers and have sold over two million copies worldwide.
Involuntary Witness is the first book in which readers get to meet and know Guido Guerrieri and for which the New Yorker wrote, “Carofiglio writes crisp, ironical novels that are as much love stories and philosophical treatises as they are legal thrillers."
The story unfolds around the murder of a nine-year-old boy, whose body is found at the bottom of a well near a popular beach resort in the South of Italy. There is no evidence of sexual violence on the body. It is a horrendous and hideous crime. Struggling to find an explanation, it looks like a hopeless case for Guerrieri, who is the counsel for the defense.
After a quick investigation, someone is accused of the crime. It is a peddler from Senegal, Abdou Thiam, who works on the beach close to the little boy’s grandparents’ house where he used to play. The case is immediately soaked with small-town racism, fed by the recent immigration from Africa.
“More than a perfectly paced legal thriller, this relentless suspense novel transcends the genre. A powerful attack on racism and a fascinating insight into the Italian judicial process, it is also an affectionate portrait of a deeply humane hero”.
The story seems already written. The evidence pointing to the accused man includes proofs and witness testimony, more specifically a photo and a statement from a barman. Abdou Thiam does not have the means or the resources to properly defend himself or hire a lawyer. He is facing a twenty-year sentence.
In this background, the lawyer Guido Guerrieri, who is battling his own personal struggles, finds in the captivating challenge to save Abdou a new awakening for his own life.
Delving into the bigger questions about Abdou’s innocence or guilt, Carofiglio describes in a very precise and detailed way how the actions and procedures unfold within the courtroom, following what happens in the Corte d’Assise with the judges, the defense lawyers, the prosecution, and the popular jury.
“And in the interplay of these parts, in the phrasing of boredom and twist, or of rhetorical sharpness and the deadly lunge of a counterevidence, he succeeds in creating the tension of expectation, insinuating doubt and, above all, arousing the trepidatious anticipation of a liberating justice”.
Masterfully written and telling a very interesting and fascinating story, the book has been defined as “perhaps the first truly Italian legal thriller, written by a lawyer about truly Italian lawyers and truly Italian judges in real Italian courtrooms. Corrado Augias described it as one of the best legal thrillers released in Italy."