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temporary perfections

8 june 2013

Temporary Perfections is the fourth in a series of crime novels by Gianrico Carofiglio. I had read his Past is a Foreign Country, an intriguing study of none-too-perfect heroes, but hadn't realized that it was a one-off novel by a series writer; and as so often, when I stumbled across the series, I started to read it in precisely the wrong direction, the last book first.

Carofiglio's series hero is Guido Guerrieri – at least to judge by Temporary Perfections, a sort of latter-day southern Italian Perry Mason. Guerrieri is a criminal-defense lawyer who gets involved in a mystery via osmosis and inertia, somewhat against his better inclinations. The parents of a vanished young woman ask him to see if he can find her when the Carabinieri have been unable to. He does so as a favor to a solicitor friend, and ends up getting intrigued by the private-eye aspects of the work.

Meanwhile, Guerrieri's first-person narration is characterized by two motifs: Proustian flashbacks and problems with women. (Which are not mutually exclusive.) The flashbacks are just a touch overdone, to my mind. When Guerrieri pets a dog on page 153, it touches off a litany of childhood memories that lasts till the bottom of page 155; less might have been more. The memory material in the novel is just a shade too sentimental, and a shade too extraneous, for my tastes. And I say this as a card-carrying admirer of Proust.

Women make Guerrieri's life difficult – or rather, Guerrieri makes his own life difficult in the presence of women, and he's quick to admit his own missteps. In Temporary Perfections, he conducts an ill-advised affair with a material witness, and he can't quite bring himself to open up to an older, wiser woman that he'd be much more compatible with, preferring to twist himself into embarrassing emotional contortions in her presence. The affair is perfect, though, for about eighteen hours. Hence the novel's title.

Meanwhile, there's detecting to be done. The Carabinieri who have been over the case file have done a very good job. Guerrieri suspects with reason that he won't find much that they haven't. But Manuela Ferraro is still missing, and the authorities have had to move on; Guerrieri by contrast has a large retainer to burn through and all the hours in the world to bill. He figures that a good detective would just keep asking questions and hope that somebody would remember something relevant. Eventually, somebody does.

You're virtually to the end of this intriguing story when you realize that the mystery hasn't deepened much, but must wind up somehow in the next 30 pages or so. It does so briskly enough. It's a simple Krimi that, like so many in its genre, really wants to be about other things, but knows that we must have a crime in our sights to keep us reading.

Carofiglio, Gianrico. Temporary Perfections. [Le perfezioni provvisorie, 2010.] Translated by Anthony Shugaar. New York: Rizzoli, 2011.