Where one crime and many intersect
In 2001 a quiet and respectable man in his mid sixties brutally murders another man in his mid eighties with whom he has no prior relationship, and immediately after the unobserved murder goes to the authorities to confess, with no explanation offered, that he has murdered the man.
So begins this novel, written by Ferdinand von Schirach, a German defence lawyer. Given that ‘The Collini Case’ follows the route taken by a young defence lawyer, assigned as legal aid to the self confessed murderer, we know this will be a novel about the process of law itself, as much as an unravelling of the story behind the story. And given that it is set in Germany, with the murdered man and indeed the murderer being elderly men, there won’t be too many surprises in store about that unravelling. Good novels don’t only rely on shock and surprise however. You may deduce, as I did, from the given scenario and back jacket descriptions, exactly what this book is about, but the reader’s absorption will depend on the author’s skill in unfolding the story.
von Shirach has that skill. This is a clearly, dispassionately, coolly written voice. No histrionics, especially not when scenes which could be painted in overblown and garish penny dreadful language occur. It is almost clinically and cerebrally told. Each of the central characters – murderer, defence and prosecuting lawyer, present with their emotions reined in. However the lack of flowery or graphic description aids the book, rather than hinders it. The language, though spare, is not dry. It is on one level a quick read – 164 pages, fairly large typeface – pared back to reveal its clean lines, the bony skeleton in the cupboard we always knew was there. At its heart is a particular piece of German law. von Shirach looks behind legal processes and their day to day flesh which disguises what they really are, and post-mortems back to their hidden bone.