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by Gianrico Carofiglio and Antony Shugaar, trans.
Bitter Lemon, September 2011
284 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 1904738729

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Bitter Lemon Press is making something of a reputation for itself for publishing translations of crime novels and if this book is a typical example of its products that reputation can only grow. TEMPORARY PERFECTIONS is the fourth in a series of books featuring defence lawyer Guido Guerreri. A reviewer who has not read at least some of the previous books in a series can often find themselves at a disadvantage but that is certainly not the case here. The story is completely self-contained. Carofiglio's previous incarnation as a Public Prosecutor in Bari may have been of use to him in his earlier books but it is less in evidence here where, instead of being involved in legal niceties, he is himself carrying out an investigation into a missing girl. This is not a role in which he feels qualified and he is at first reluctant to raise the hopes of the distraught parents. However, he recalls a conversation with a bookish taxi driver who quoted Paul Valéry, "The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up." Approaching middle age, divorced and with only his small legal firm for family, he feels that he is in a sense asleep. He decides to rouse himself and see if he can help.

This tendency to question himself as Guerrieri pursues his investigation seems to enable him to come up with the right questions and eventually the right answers. It is as if he gains insights from looking back over his life. His recollections include being bullied as a child, stealing sweets from a shop in order to feel part of a gang and an adolescent crush on a girl who humiliated him. He has a punching bag to which he talks confidentially. He confesses to it that his life seems drab and intensely sad. He explains that the advantage of these exchanges is that the bag doesn't charge a fee, is never judgmental and doesn't inspire the normal sexual feelings between psychotherapist and patient. Such is the extent of his personal relationship with the bag that he even goes so far as to apologize to it for a banal metaphor! His thoughts and recollections, his references to authors like Proust, Conan Doyle and Poe, which occupy most of his time when he is not carrying out his investigation, are always interesting in themselves and never provoke the feeling that he ought to be getting on with his business. What we come to learn is that his innate human sympathy will be a valuable quality in his quest to understand what happened to a young girl.

When Guerrieri does begin his enquiries, he is always thorough. He interviews again all those potential witnesses who have already been interviewed by the Carabinieri and picks up subtle hints they have missed. He seeks the advice of a friend in the Carabinieri who, whilst he has no criticism of the way in which his colleagues dealt with the case, suggests certain additional lines of enquiry that might be profitable. He even makes use of former criminal clients to gather information. The patient approach pays off and eventually there arrives what might be called 'the Colombo moment' when - like the cigar-smoking little man in the dirty raincoat - he casually asks "just one more question" and solves the mystery. Perhaps it wasn't such a mystery after all, though the manner of its solution is wholly engrossing.

§ Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, March 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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