In Bari in Southern Italy we meet Guido Guerrieri; a forty-something lawyer with a non live-in girlfriend and an introspective approach to life. A policeman friend of Guerrieri’s calls on him one day and brings with him a nun with a story to tell. The story is about Martina, a volunteer who works at the women’s shelter the nun runs. Martina wants to bring a civil case of assault and battery against her ex-boyfriend who has beaten her multiple times. Two other lawyers have turned down the case because the man accused is the son of a powerful local judge and anyone who takes on the case is risking an end to their own professional career. Partly because he is unable to say no in the presence of the strangely intriguing nun, Guido agrees to take on the case.
At only just over 200 pages (positively tiny in today’s environment) this unassuming little book packs an unexpectedly powerful punch. The author manages to bring something new to the all too frequent tale of an abused woman in a number of subtle ways. Firstly, although Martina’s case is at the centre of the story the woman herself is not. Readers see events through Guido’s eyes and those of Sister Claudia more than they do through Martina’s. This does not diminish her or the grimness of her situation but it does offer a less common perspective. The problems of achieving a positive result in this kind of “he said, she said” case, especially when there is an overarching potential for corruption due to the man’s connections, are starkly drawn and really highlight the difficulties that women in these situations must face. In a fraction of the length of lesser books we get a very real sense of the inner strength it took for Martina to take legal action and the practical difficulties involved in protecting her and obtaining justice. It is terribly moving though sad to be reminded that there is a need for places called women’s shelters the world over.
The other standout feature of the novel is the nicely developed characters, particularly of Guido and Sister Claudia. While not the tortured, loner, alcoholic endemic to crime fiction Guido does have his demons including a strong belief in his own cowardice. His intermittent insomnia, and the late night walks which are his treatment, provide for some touching introspection of the kind that only the wee small hours can bring. They counterbalance nicely Guido the non-corrupt lawyer who must use some creative manoeuvres to bring his cases to successful conclusion against a system in which there is a lot of corruption and nepotism. Sister Claudia, a martial-arts practising nun, has more than her fair share of troubles too and is an interesting character added to this mix.
Given that on several occasions I stopped to re-read sentences or passages just because I liked the way the language sounded I’m proposing that the translation by Howard Curtis is an excellent one though my own knowledge of Italian is far too rudimentary to really know. In fact the only down note to this review is my own annoyance at having been so long in discovering this terrific author. I loved the book’s combination of thoughtful legal procedural and journal of a man’s life and thoughts so much that I’m not even going to complain too much that it made me embarrass myself in public. The ending surprised and angered me (on behalf of the characters not due to any lack of quality in the storytelling) and the several loud sobs I tried (unsuccessfully I think) to pretend were the result of hay fever as I sat on a crowded bus generated furtive glances from my fellow passengers. I highly recommend this book (though perhaps one to be read in the privacy of one’s own home).
I’m using this book as the book with travel or movement in the title for this year’s What’s in a Name challenge
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Translator Howard Curtis
Publisher Bitter Lemon Press [this translation 2006, original edition 2003]
Length 214 pages
Book Series #2 in the Guido Guerrieri series
Source I bought it