First of all, I should say that I won this book from the publisher, Bitter Lemon Press, which predisposes me to like it... That out of the way, I loved it.
Although I came in at the fourth book in the Guido Guerrieri series, I found it worked well as a stand alone novel. Guerrieri is a defence lawyer in Bari, southern Italy who takes on an unusual case: a young girl named Manuela has been missing for some months and the police investigation is closed. Now her parents request him to look through the files and see if there is anything to suggest the case should be re-opened. Despite his initial reluctance, Guido agrees, eventually managing to solve the case himself.
The author, Gianrico Carofiglio, is a member of the Italian senate and a former anti-Mafia prosecutor, also in Bari. This means that both the legal details and the sense of place have genuine authority. The translation by Antony Shugaar was also very assured. As I don't read Italian, I'm unable to comment on its accuracy, but I felt that he succeeded very well in conveying the Italian-ness of the text and setting, without over-foreignising the English, which risks alienating the reader. Having said that, there were a few minor niggles with phrasing, particularly in the early chapters - just a few occasions where something jarred. This seemed less of an issue later on; whether the translator got into his stride, or I became accustomed to his style, I don't know. Then again, there were also some tricky little moments where I thought: "yes, that's a good solution."
I found the story gripping, despite my own slow start at reading it, and the characters well developed. Guerrieri is an appealing hero, aware of his own shortcomings without being insufferably navel-gazing, and I wanted to learn more about his past as well as caring what happens to him next. The investigation is almost a side issue and the case not particularly complex, so it is the atmosphere and Guido's musings and memories that really carry the reader along. I understand that the previous three novels are more legal thrillers than detective stories, while this falls somewhere between the two genres - a lawyer almost playing at being an amateur sleuth.
All in all, then, a cracking read and I have asked for the first three books for Christmas, which seems a pretty fair recommendation...