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TEMPORARY PERFECTIONS
by Gianrico Carofiglio and Antony Shugaar, trans.
Rizzoli, August 2011
330 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 0847836304


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Publishers' descriptions are often misleading, but the words "electrifying" "suspenseful," and "thriller" appearing in the advertising copy for Carofiglio's fourth mystery featuring lawyer Guido Guerrieri seem peculiarly off-key. That's not to say the book lacks momentum or interest, but those words suggest the book will be dominated by a fast-paced plot, when in fact the plot continually fades into the background as the narrator loses his train of thought, decides to visit a bookstore, or becomes mesmerized by an unexpected memory. He diagnoses himself as having a "pathological tendency to procrastinate," and though he takes on the job of reexamining a missing person case and pursues it diligently, he is very easily distracted.

Manuela Ferraro, a 22-year-old university student, left for Rome from a seaside trullo or stone cottage where she had been staying with friends, but somewhere along the line disappeared. When the police move to close the dead-end investigation of a disappearance that might have been voluntary, her parents ask Guerrieri to look over the file and see if there might be some avenue the authorities had failed to notice. He is too kind to say no, though he isn't confident.

When he interviews her friends, he realizes that her boyfriend may have been involved in the drug trade. Soon he has a staunch ally, Caterina Pontrandolfi, one of the missing girl's friends, who treats the much older lawyer as a friend and equal, making him feel both flattered and embarrassed.

Readers who are seeking an electrifying thriller should look elsewhere. Those who are willing to take the scenic route, however, are in for a genuine treat. Carofiglio's narrator has a charm and grace that is difficult to describe. He dawdles, he digresses, he ponders his life and discusses old movies with friends at a bar. Something will trigger a recollection, and he'll tumble down the slopes of memory, returning a bit dazed to the present pages later. He's more competent than he seems, though constantly self-deprecating. In a typical aside he says "I pulled up the collar of my raincoat, even though there was no reason to do so. People who read too much often do things that are completely unnecessary."

The story is more than serviceable, but the telling of it is superb. Guido Guerrieri is wonderful company. Instead of trading on his real life work as a successful prosecutor of Mafia figures, Carofiglio has decided to focus on less dramatic moral decisions and on the nuances of everyday life. It's cheering to know that so modest and philosophical a protagonist can garner millions of fans at home in Italy. He should gain many more with this excellent translation.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, August 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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