For German Lit Month 2012 I read Ferdinand von Schirach’s collection of crime short stories Crime & Guilt largely based on his experiences as one of Germany’s most prominent defence lawyers. The Collini Case is Schirach’s first attempt at slightly longer fiction (although it is still short at only 182 pages) and as with the stories in Crime & Guilt Schirach manages to portray the perpetrator of a vicious crime in a humane light by explaining his back story. The investigation into a seemingly motiveless attack on an elderly industrialist goes nowhere. This, plus his client’s unwillingness to talk, explain himself or defend his position, causes up-and-coming defence lawyer, Casper Leinen some sleepless nights. Casper’s personal connection to the victim provides the emotional conflict and personal angle to this story.
Schirach cleverly reveals the moving yet horrifying back story of both killer and victim with such dignity that I could not help but feel some sympathy for the defendant and his decision to commit such a brutal act (in fact my face streamed with tears reading parts of this book as my train chugged through the Belgian countryside towards Bruges last week). This is a tense and gripping yet precise courtroom drama with a bittersweet ending. And despite its brevity it packed a punch in Germany; the shame associated with the very specific piece of German law featured and highlighted in this novella led to a review of the marks left on the Ministry of Justice by its past connections to the Nazi party. Worth reading for that alone.
I read this for German Literature Month
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