After having read Ferdinand von Schirach’s excellent first collection Crime – Verbrechen (here is my review), I had to have his second collection Guilt – Schuld and his novel Der Fall Collini right away. The novel isn’t out in English yet but it is due end of 2012.
Any which way you want to look at von Schirach’s books, “literary”, “true story”, whatever, they make for pretty addictive reading. I finished this in a sitting or two.
The angle in this collection is a bit different but some of the striking features of the first are present here as well. Most of the crimes are astonishing, many go wrong, often the perpetrator ends up being the victim and not everybody gets punished.
The focus is less the tipping point than the question of guilt. Interestingly not only the criminal’s guilt but to a certain degree even the lawyer’s guilt. There are a few cases, some date back to von Schirach’s early days as a criminal defense lawyer, where at the end I had the feeling that he felt guilty. Guilty because someone walked who shouldn’t have.
Like in the first collection, we get a close look at the German criminal system. I find it interesting how important it is for the lawyer to follow the law 100% even if the punishment doesn’t sound just. I always find it fascinating how a definition can alter the sentence completely. There is one case in which it is crucial to establish whether if someone kills a sleeping man it can ever be anything else than murder. Can it be manslaughter or even self-defence when the person is asleep? Or let’s say someone tries to kill someone, hurts the person badly but then stops before he is dead. That changes everything as well. These details were the best parts in this collection.
There are cases in which you even wonder whether there is not some superior justice at work, for example when a perpetrator gets run over by a car before being even able to commit the gruesome murder he had planned in many details and written down in his diary.
The tone is close to the first book, laconic, brief, to the point. There is no judging of people, no pointing the finger, just a very factual account of what happened.
All in all I liked this collection but not as much as the first. Whether there is a difference – I felt the cases in the first collection were more astonishing as a whole – or whether they are too alike, I’m not sure but I found it a bit less original and not as touching but still well worth reading. I’m really looking forward to read the novel and as I know it will be published soon in English, I will review it in a couple of weeks. If you don’t have any of the two collections yet it may be worth waiting as they will be released together in September Crime and Guilt.
If you are interested in hearing Ferdinand von Schirach talking about crime, punishment, guilt and his very special laconic writing style you might enjoy watching this interview (English and German with translation).