A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio
Over the past couple of months I have been immersing myself in European mysteries. Bitter Lemon Press has particularly been a wonderful discovery on this front and when I finished Gianrico Carofiglio’s A Walk in the Dark, I was truly impressed. The combination of courtroom thriller, mystery, and in-depth character study is an Italian combination of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and the latest John Grisham “lawyer in peril” legal adventure. It’s first rate writing that blends a tale of a stalked woman, a nun and a hero who name drops Gerald Durrell, Springsteen and Sun Tzu. This is vintage storytelling, and classic drama; it hits all the right notes and has put Carofiglio on my short list of authors to watch for.
Initially, Walk is about Guido Guerrieri, a lawyer with a lot of small cases, all professionally handled, and a very smart girlfriend who is kind enough to live upstairs in her own apartment while still cooking some amazing meals for two. Guerrieri is a thinking man, the sort who considers what he does with his life and wonders if it is enough. He cooks a mean meal himself (a la Spenser) and lets nothing get past him without careful consideration. Here are his thoughts on a Mohammed Ali sports documentary: “Punches hurt, and are usually pretty nasty. Which is why there’s something so incredible about that superhuman grace of his. It’s as if he’s overcome matter, overcome fear, as if he’s making a leap out of the dirt and the blood towards a kind of ideal of beauty.”
Of course it’s not all literary moments or thoughtful observations however; Guerrieri has a terrified client, and the case she is bringing against her former boyfriend for stalking and abuse has ramifications that extend far beyond a standard he said/she said argument. The man is the son of a powerful judge and many lawyers have passed on the job, sending the client away in her desperate search for someone who will help her get her life back. Guerrieri might be crazy or just plain stubborn, but he doesn’t refuse her. That is how he finds himself playing head games with the most powerful hired gun in his profession and standing toe to toe with his client’s protector, the very mysterious and yet appealing Sister Claudia.
The mystery in A Walk in the Dark is only tangentially attached to the crimes Martina Fumai accuses her ex-boyfriend of committing. Whether or not he was a violent stalker is not the biggest issue -- not to the lawyers anyway. Guerrieri has to figure out just what kind of witness Fumai can be and what secrets lurk in her past that might destroy the case before it even begins. Finding out the truth about his client forces Guerrieri ever closer to Sister Claudia and her own hidden truths and makes him wonder all the more about what he really wants to happen in his own life. He is a man who goes to bookstores for comfort but feels himself pulled nonetheless toward a woman who kickboxes for relaxation. They have nothing in common but Martina Fumai and just who she is, but it seems to be enough to make them both let down their guard.
Quickly, elegantly, Carofiglio sends Guerrieri on two journeys, both of which converge in an explosive ending that ties up every loose end, answers every question, and still leaves the reader more than a little breathless. I liked Guido Guerrieri a lot (if I’m honest, I’ll admit to falling half in love with him), and the perfect balance Carofiglio achieves between exterior and interior plot is to be admired. If you like Parker or John D. MacDonald or any of those other smart talking, deep thinking detectives then you have found yourself another fine series here. The addition of the Italian location and the author’s experience as an anti-mafia prosecutor just seals the deal for me; A Walk in the Dark is an excellent read and one to be sought out by erudite mystery fans.
A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio, translated by Howard Curtis
Bitter Lemon Press