The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 22, 2011

TEMPORARY PERFECTIONS by Gianrico Carofiglio

Guido Guerrieri is hired to look into a missing person case. Not to investigate it, he's a lawyer after all, not a detective, but the parents of the missing young woman are afraid the police are about to close the case, so they ask Guerrieri to go over the details to see what the police might have missed. But he doesn't think they missed anything and he dreads having to tell his clients that he can offer them no hope. Instead he begins to interview the woman's friends and the few witnesses available, and slowly the imaginative Guido begins to unravel a tale of dark deceit.

TEMPORARY PERFECTIONS is not only the title of the book, it is the theme of the book, those moments of perfect happiness that we cling to as we live them but can barely recall as little as 24 hours later. But Guido remembers them in vivid detail, and author Carofiglio fills the story with Guido's reminiscences, temporary perfections (for only what is temporary, says Guido, can be perfect), each of which not only fulfills the theme but shines a brief light on the way Guido puts together the puzzle of the missing woman.

As a result of Guido's pauses to remember, the pace of the book is easy, as the lawyer gently teases out the facts of the case, but not dragging. Every moment spent in Guido's company is fascinating because he is a fascinating character. He's a successful attorney, a failure at relationships, and those two attributes should make this character just another of the same in a long line of such in contemporary crime fiction. Guido is different because he is literate, insecure, compassionate; in short, he's the kind of man most women would love to get to know but never will because he thinks of himself as Charlie Brown, the Peanuts character. When Guido makes a misstep it isn't because he is stupid or careless. He is not a stupid or careless man. His missteps occur because he is lonely and fallible. But those same two characteristics also provoke rewards that he sometimes sees and appreciates, and sometimes does not.

Carofiglio has crafted a poignant, witty, and literate mystery in this his fourth book in the Guerrieri series. The complexities and quirks of the Italian criminal justice system are made readily comprehensible, with no strain on the reader. The emphasis is on reasoning and the understanding of the human condition, so don't expect Guido to suddenly imitate Jack Reacher -- Guido is a warmer personality, and although he is a creditable boxer, the author does not use that skill as a device to put Guido in the position of being a physical hero. Instead, Guido's punching bag acts as a friend to him, a sounding board for his emotions and ideas. Credit translator Antony Shugaar for keeping the translation smooth, never using a misplaced idiom or a word that jars the reader into a state of disbelief. I'm looking forward to finding the earlier books in this series and spending more quality time with Guido.

Here's an excerpt that may help you understand why I find the introspective and well-read Guido so engaging:

It was just then that I realized something. A couple of hours earlier, I had assumed that when I read the file, I wouldn't find any new clues. And in fact, reading the file had only confirmed my suspicions. But I also assumed that I would then report my findings to Fornelli and the Ferraros, return their check, and get myself out of an assignment that I had neither the skills nor the resources to take on. It would be the only right and reasonable course of action. But in that two-hour period, for reasons I could only vaguely guess at and that I didn't want to examine too closely, I had changed my mind.

I told myself I'd give it a try. Nothing more. And the first thing I'd do would be to talk to the non-commissioned officer who had supervised the investigation, Inspector Navarra. I knew him. We were friends, and he would certainly be willing to tell me what he thought of the case, aside from what he'd written in his reports. Then I'd decide what to do next, what else to try.

As I walked out onto the street, with a studied gesture 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.


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