The third outing for defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri is, if possible, even better than the previous two. At the start, Guido decides he loves his girlfriend Margherita and wants to have a child with her – though of course he doesn't tell her this, but assumes she'll tell him she's pregnant. Instead, she moves from Bari to New York for a new job. Guido mourns her absence and is sad that she doesn't come home for Christmas, but naturally does not contact her himself, so spends most of the book plagued by introspective worrying, feeling rejected and thinking that the relationship is over.
Guido has a similar attitude to his work. Feeling as if he is not much good as a lawyer, he's actually a lot cleverer than most of the rest of the legal profession who feature, simply by bothering about his job. The vignettes when clients visit his office are delightful, particularly a mother and daughter duo who had me laughing out loud. On the occasions when Guido contacts old friends and acquaintances for advice or help, he comes over not as he sees himself, but as a charming and witty person who they are only too eager to assist, so long as the cost to their own safety is not too great. This is the land of the mafia, after all.
Guido's latest client is Fabio Paolicelli, in prison for admitting to smuggling a large quantity of heroin in his car while returning from holiday in Montenegro. Recognising the name, Guido is convinced that Fabio was part of a Fascist gang who tormented him and other boys when he was young, but his memory is at odds with the sincere prisoner he encounters when they meet in person. A mutual respect develops between the two men as Guido finds out more about how Fabio came to be in the predicament he finds himself to be in.
The situation becomes complicated when Guido meets Fabio's beautiful wife Natsu and their young daughter. Guido's feelings are, predictably, mixed and his loyalties confused. Gradually, Guido pieces together a plausible alternative hypothesis for the crime in order to create reasonable doubts in the prosecution's account; the main joy of the book is the court case, the behaviour of the various witnesses and the reactions of the judges.
A thread running through this story, as in previous books in the series, is Guido's love of books and reading. There are some lovely scenes between him and the local bookseller, and some hints as to a future career in writing. Time will tell.
REASONABLE DOUBTS is an unpretentious, shiningly true book. Despite his own inner doubts, Guido enjoys his simple life of reading, going to the cinema to see old movies, occasional cooking and hanging out in his coastal home town, and the reader can only too well identify with his values. Fabio's story shows that change is possible: even for a youth who starts out as a thug can become a wiser man. Or can he? As you can imagine, Guido doesn't ask him, so we are left with some reasonable doubts about that.
The translation, by Howard Curtis, flows naturally, and I am sure other readers will, like me, be grateful to Bitter Lemon Press and the Arts Council of the UK for publishing this wonderful author in the English Language.