Karen Meek runs Euro Crime, a website focusing on British and European crime fiction. With a team of ten reviewers working for it, Euro Crime reviews up to nine books a week and Karen is in her fourth year as a judge for the CWA's International Dagger. When not working on the website and its blog, Karen works in a public library.
I set up the Euro Crime website at the tail end of 2003. Though it was to specialise in British and European crime fiction it took me a couple of years to actually have more than an academic interest in putting translated series in the correct order (see Mankell, Nesbo for examples of “out of order translation syndrome”). In fact, I only read my first book in translation in 2004 but the one that really plunged me into the world of European crime fiction was Gianrico Carofiglio's Involuntary Witness, which I read in 2005.
Carofiglio is not only an anti-Mafia judge (a noble profession) but charming and handsome, and the kicker: he can also write very well.
Involuntary Witness, translated by Patrick Creagh in 2005, introduces his Bari-based lawyer Guido Guerrieri, the first of a currently four-book series. My review at the time:
INVOLUNTARY WITNESS chronicles a period of change for its main character, lawyer Guido Guerrieri whilst at the same time enlightening the reader on the Italian justice system, before culminating in the trial of a Senegalese peddler who has been arrested for the murder of a young boy.
The book begins with Guido separating from his wife, which leads to a subsequent psychological illness. He has panic attacks, suffers from insomnia and most embarrassingly for him feels like bursting into tears whilst in public. His work suffers and his clients suffer until one client and one case enables him to start to recover.
Abdou Thiam, a schoolteacher in his home country, can earn ten times as much selling fake handbags and watches at the coastal resorts near Bari. Abdou has been arrested for the kidnap and murder of a nine-year-old boy and the evidence against him is quite convincing even if totally circumstantial. Guido believes he is innocent and takes the case.
Unlike in a lot of crime novels, Guido does not go out investigating and try to find the real killer instead he does his job i.e. he defends his client to the best of his ability and using logic, throws doubt on all the so called 'evidence' against his client. The final verdict brought tears to my eyes.
I savoured INVOLUNTARY WITNESS with its spare writing, smoothly translated by Patrick Creagh. With its strong sense of place and the heat, I felt I was there. There is a real-time feel to the book as the main crime plot is stretched out whilst Guido is dealing with other business, romance, holidays and so on. Guido is such a likeable and sympathetic character I just enjoyed every moment of the book and I can't wait for the next book to be translated.
Coming from reading British and American crime fiction where every character, no matter their profession, aims to be the detective this was such a refreshing change. Guido is a lawyer, he has contacts he could be the detective but he chooses not to be. He sticks to his strength of being a good lawyer. He is not a traditional hero; he has many flaws, which makes him interesting. The structure of the book is also unusual with a lengthy courtroom scene where the suspect is tried for murder. Perhaps these factors mean the book shouldn't work but it does, superbly. It's fascinating, absorbing and unpredictable and I foist this book on as many people as I can.