Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gianrico Carofiglio, A Walk in the Dark

Carofiglio's second legal thriller is now in English. The novel is set in Bari, in the Puglia region of southern Italy, and "stars" a not-very-confident defense lawyer whose private life is a bit less of a mess than in the first novel. Most legal thrillers don't really fit in the "noir" category (and I must admit I'm not very fond of legal thrillers in general). But Carofiglio's books depart from the genre in significant ways, just as they depart from the conventions of the mystery. A Walk in the Dark is not really a mystery at all, certainly not a murder mystery (though violence and dead bodies are part of the story). The only revelation at the end deals with who the book is actually about (something that many readers will have figured out before then). Like many noir novels, Carofiglio's books deal with the darkness at the heart of society and in the hearts of many of its citizens. The melancholy but not tortured character of Guerrieri, the narrator and main character, is a bit lighter than the normal noir anti-hero, but he is an anti-hero nevertheless, and the situations with which he is forced to deal (because of his clients) is certainly dark enough. His stock-in-trade clients are petty criminals, providing income for Guerrieri by being repeatedly arrested. In some senses he has a kinship with Rumpole, but without the jokiness, or perhaps it is his usual clientele that has something in common with that of Rumpole. But Guerrieri becomes increasingly involved with his more desperate clients (an African immigrant unjustly accused in the first novel, see my earlier post on Italian noir) and in this case an abused woman. His normal melancholy and legal ineptness dissolves through the course of his involvement, and he becomes a powerful, though not always effective in the sense of the hero-on-a-white-horse of the usual hero of legal fiction. In the end, what remains is a sense of Guerrieri's personal growth (unlike some series characters, he is changed by the experiences of his narratives) and a sense of the unpleasant realities of dealing with other people, and of the unjust and unfeeling layers of contemporary society. Plus these books give a glimpse of a part of Italy rarely seen in fiction, much less crime fiction (and for me, gaining some insight into new places and new populations is a driving force in my interest in international noir fiction).

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