The Measure of Time

By Gianrico Carofiglio, translated by Howard Curtis — Guido Guerrieri is a lawyer of middle years who practices in Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. In this, Gianrico Carofiglio’s sixth legal drama featuring Guerrieri, a woman named Lorenza Delle Foglie asks him to appeal her son’s conviction on a first-degree murder charge.

Decades before, when Guerrieri was in his twenties and still in training, he had a love affair with Lorenza. She was older than he and at the time of their relationship, the center of his life. Not hers, though.

She was mysterious and vague, and what she did between their meetings was an unknown he never dared probe. The sex was great, but more lastingly, she introduced him to literature and philosophy—heady discussions for a young man. Then, for no particular reason he ever learned, she dropped him.

Now her son, Iacopo, a small-time criminal, has been convicted of murdering a drug dealer. When Guerrieri and his team review the case evidence and trial transcript, they feel pretty confident the son is guilty, but it’s also true a weak defense was mounted on his behalf.

Guerrieri hopes he and his investigators can make the most of a few poorly examined leads. Then he may convince the judges and jury that the prosecution’s version of events is not the only reasonable one. Doubt will be their friend.

Chapters about the investigation, which no one on the team seems to have much enthusiasm for, alternate with chapters in which Guerrieri reflects on his and Lorenza’s long-ago relationship. His team might have engaged more had he made them aware of their past, but he doesn’t. While his recollections about Lorenza show how some of his attitudes have evolved over nearly thirty years, I found those sections of the book slow-going. Lorenza herself came across as bloodless and intellectually pretentious. Guerrieri sees her more clearly now, of course.

When the case finally comes to court, the proceedings are rather staid. The judge is even-handed, and the shrill female prosecutor appears not a bit worried that the original verdict will be upended. As a result, there’s a lack of narrative energy to this aspect of the story, though Guerrieri nicely demonstrates important points about establishing doubt. If I’d been on that jury the prosecutor certainly would have failed to convince me that hers was the only possible interpretation of a sketchy set of facts.

Carofiglio’s works are extremely popular in Italy. Fans of his work, especially, may appreciate the opportunity to observe the inner-workings of a talented investigative mind. Once again, Howard Curtis translated, and he does so seamlessly. You’re not aware, really, that it even is a translation. Nice work.

4 thoughts on “The Measure of Time

  1. I’ve never cared for translations and usually avoid them like the plague. If I can’t read the work in the author’s original language, which in my case is limited to English and rudimentary Spanish, I take a pass. I did manage to get through Chaucer’s Middle English as an undergrad, though, and enjoyed Nabokov’s short stories, which were translated from the Russian by his son. From your review, it sounds like this guy did a good job as well.

    • In general, the translations I’ve read have gotten much better over time. A clunky one is truly awful. One of my book clubs read Madame Bovary a couple of years back, and I was delighted to get a version that was a “new translation.” I thought, updated language, etc. etc. It was horrible! I could hardly slog through it. Online I found an interview with the translator who said she actually didn’t like the book, even before accepting the translating gig. Well, that sure came through in her finished product!

    • I didn’t love it, but I subsequently watched an interview with the author and think I appreciate better what he was trying to do. His book The Cold Summer is terrific. More on the interview tomorrow.

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