Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99 Order for £8.54 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Temporary Perfections, By Gianrico Carofiglio

 

Fans of that gorgeous Italian advocate, Guido Guerrieri, will be saddened by the melancholy which has overcome him in this, the fourth of his forensic adventures to be translated (by Antony Shugaar). We find the crusading criminal lawyer of Bari, now in his forties, in gloomy mode, knocking back Primitivo in an empty apartment. His girlfriend has left for America; he is living on takeaways and has just lost an important case in the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest tribunal. He even encounters that classic symbol of depression, a black dog: the one-eared Baskerville. His social life centres around the Chelsea Hotel, named after the bohemian New York establishment, where he is befriended by the exotic Nadia, porn actress and former client, who teaches him the finer points of drinking absinthe.

Into this Baudelarian lifestyle comes an old lawyer acquaintance with a run-of-the-mill problem: a client whose student daughter has gone missing. Guerrieri's interest is aroused by some curious aspects of the case, not least that the girl apparently vanished into thin air at a railway station. She was on vacation with student friends in a "trulli", curious conical stone structures in Apulia, once humble peasant huts, now holiday homes for the rich.

Guerrieri explores his past life to analyse the decisions which have brought him to this point. The gloom is brightened by an affair with beautiful Caterina, friend of the missing girl. But Guerrieri is sadly aware of the difference in their ages and that the relationship has no future. He also has lesser problems: a case of terrorism that turns on a legal peculiarity; a client accused of corruption whose real offence seems to be wearing tasseled loafers. More seriously, he has to investigate the drug scene among young people. Was the missing girl an addict, and how widespread was drug-use among her friends? Eventually, Guerrieri has to choose between the ethics he adopted as a young lawyer and shielding Caterina.

This is not only a fascinating panorama of Bari's neon-lit underworld. It's a fine literary achievement: a study of angst and the efforts of a disillusioned hero to find some integrity in a shady world.

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