A Fine Line: Gianrico Carofiglio

Unlike the main character of Gianrico Carofiglio’s Guido Guerrieri series, I’m not a lawyer, but as a crime junkie, I find myself asking questions: what does it feel like to be a defense lawyer? Yes I know that everyone is supposed to deserve a decent defense but ….Do you always believe that your client is innocent? If not, how  do you cope, morally, with the knowledge that your client is guilty? Are you picky about the cases you take–for example, do you reject accused pedophiles or heinous murder cases? Can you afford to be that selective or do you decide on a case-by-case basis? All these questions are answered in A Fine Line, which can be read as a standalone, the most philosophical Guido Guerrieri novel in the series.

a fine line

A Fine Line finds Avvocato Guido Guerrieri defending a rape case, the sort of thing he normally avoids, but in this instance, it’s a clear case of sloppy investigation. Soon after the case wraps up, he’s approached by Judge Pierluigi Larocca for representation. Larocca has just learned that there’s a bribery case brewing against him with a “Mafioso who’s turned state’s evidence” as the star witness. Guido has “never heard the slightest gossip” about Larocca who has a reputation for being incorruptible. For Larocca, who hopes to gain a promotion in the next few months, the case could not have come at a worse time. He hires Guido and Guido goes to work digging into the case against Larocca.

Guido hires Annapaola Doria, a bisexual private detective to ferret out information about the case, and since the prosecution is keeping everything hush hush, some of the PI’s methods aren’t orthodox or legal.

Although a few scenes take place in the courtroom, this is not a courtroom thriller. As the most meditative Guido Guerrieri novel to date, A Fine Line examines the Italian legal system, facing middle age, and how to maintain integrity in one’s profession. If you are hoping for the usual crime novel or even something hard-boiled, you are likely to be disappointed. Instead we follow Guido as he goes through his daily life and this includes the conversations he has with his punching bag, arguments he debates with himself, making observations about people in a café, and even a chance meeting in a bookshop. So in other words, the book mirrors life with all its trivia;  it’s not 24/7 crime busting.

I enjoyed A Fine Line more than the other novels in the series that I’ve read. There are five books so far, and I’ve read three, and I liked this one for its philosophical meditations which addressed many of the questions I had about being a defense lawyer. It’s through the Larocca case, that Guido comes to terms with his life, reaching mature decisions while recognizing his own weaknesses and foibles.

I had an image of myself and tried to live up to it. One way or another. Whenever there was a clash with reality, it was reality that had to adapt. But that’s a mechanism that can’t work forever. Gradually you lose your sense of balance

translated by Howard Curtis

review copy


Filed under Carofiglio Gianrico, Fiction

16 responses to “A Fine Line: Gianrico Carofiglio

  1. A great review of what sounds like a book with some real depth. Like you I do wonder how a defence lawyer manages when they doubt their client’s innocence. I’ve never really been into courtroom novels before but having watched nearly the entire seven series of The Good Wife this year I think I’m in the right zone to tackle them now!

    • There’s not a lot here that takes place in the courtroom, and the bit that does is somewhat tedious. It’s mostly Guido’s daily life and a lot of his thoughts.

  2. I like the sound of this and will track it down. Re lawyers’ belief or otherwise in their clients, most of of the ones I know run the line that the law should be available to all without prejudice. All the same, I find it hard to understand how you’d work for a scumbag. I often think when I see someone who has one of the very expensive lawyers that he must be guilty to be able to afford it. And many of the very expensive lawyers here come from sterling Catholic families.

    • I get the whole argument that everyone is entitled to a decent defense, but I know that I couldn’t represent someone who could possibly be guilty of some horrible crime. Couldn’t live with it.

  3. It does sound excellent, Guy. I don’t know if you’ve read anything by Friedrich Durrenmatt, but on the strength of this review I think you’d like him very much. His Inspector Barlach Mysteries have a philosophical edge – not quite the same territory as A Fine Line, but a similar ballpark.

  4. This really appeals to me. I often wonder about defence lawyers and how they do their job if they know a client is guilty. I like that it is more philosophical than procedural too. Great review.

    • I overheard a conversation once between a man and his lawyer. Don’t know what the man was arrested for but the lawyer was telling him to transfer the title of his car and all of his money. It was rather disturbing.

  5. I know I will love this because I already lived the first in the series. Von Schirach explores these aspects of being a defense lawyer as well. I don’t think he defends people he thinks are guilty. Not sure I could do that.

  6. In the English system, and I suspect others, you can’t present a defence you know to be untrue. If therefore the accused tells you they’re guilty you can’t advance a defence that they’re innocent (and if you do and get caught you can be struck off). If they haven’t told you they’re guilty, you don’t know they are, though you may believe or strongly suspect they are.

    You’re not the judge though or the jury. It’s not for you to decide guilt.

    I never did defence work, but I trained in it and the logic behind it. The system works because every side advances their case as best they can. If the defence decide the accused probably did it and slack off but the prosecution do their job the trial becomes unfair – there hasn’t been a robust defence. And however unlikely it may seem in any given case sometimes people are innocent despite massive evidence to the contrary. Despite witnesses, physical evidence and even a confession they may yet sometimes be (and sometimes genuinely are) innocent.

    Some of course treat it more as an adversarial game (though the system still works, as well as any system works, when they do) and some as a job like any other (and that works too). However uncomfortable though and even if we couldn’t do it ourselves it’s good that there are people willing to defend the obviously guilty as if there weren’t there’d be a lot more innocent people in jail. As we found out in the UK in the 1970s a fair bit, just because someone looks obviously guilty doesn’t mean the case against them is sound.

    The book sounds good. Thoughtful and addressing issues I’m used to seeing lawyers consider but less used to seeing outside the profession.

  7. ” If therefore the accused tells you they’re guilty you can’t advance a defence that they’re innocent (and if you do and get caught you can be struck off).”
    Ok that makes sense as I have seen scenes where the lawyer basically tells the client to shut up when a conversation goes a certain way.
    I understand the logic of it, and it sounds fair, but I wonder about the realities of it esp when it comes to murder or child molestation/abuse cases.
    I recently had a chat with a lawyer who said that he couldn’t stand divorce work any longer as it’s ‘all about hate.’ He decided to go into another field. This is the third lawyer who’s told me that so perhaps for some fields there’s a higher burn out rate than others.

    • I think that’s true. When I started out I did some personal injury stuff, mostly for insurance companies against claimants. I couldn’t stand it – I had a case where a woman had been badly injured in an accident that she was clearly not responsible for and left permanently partly-disabled. She was applying for interim damages to pay for the costs of therapy to come to terms with it all. I was opposing on behalf of the liable insurer…

      Thankfully I lost, but after that I didn’t have the heart for that kind of work any more. To be fair however to the insurance company (who I acted for on a fair few occasions), there were also a great many claims where they were absolutely right to oppose and where the claimant was trying it on. It was all just too ugly for me though.

      • The author is a former anti-mafia judge, so that explains the ‘insider’ sentiment.
        As for your experience, just think of a lifetime of that sort of work..

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