Ferdinand von Schirach: Guilt – Schuld (2010)

After having read Ferdinand von Schirach’s excellent first collection CrimeVerbrechen (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).

Anne Perry – Interiors (2009) A Documentary

A while back I reviewed Heavenly Creatures (see my review) the movie based on the true story of two young girls who murdered the mother of one of them. One of the girls is the famous crime writer Anne Perry.

The movie was excellent although very disturbing. Last week I discovered on Sam’s blog Book Chase that there is a documentary on the story called Anne Perry – Interiors. If anyone is interested to dig deeper, Sam’s post contains other info and a long discussion.

I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet but will try to do so.

Here is the original site Anne Perry – Interiors

Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994)

A while back Bookaroundthecorner left a comment on one of my posts mentioning that the author of Victorian detective novels, Anne Perry, had committed a murder when she was a young girl. I had never heard of this before and a google search soon led me to more details and to Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson entirely based on this story.

I watched it recently and must say it was an utterly disturbing movie. I’m not giving away too much when I tell you what actually happened as it also written on the DVD covers and descriptions of the movie and many people know it anyway. Pauline Parker (Melanie Lysnkey) and Juliet Henry Hulme (Kate Winslet) met in New Zealand in the 50s. The unlikely couple formed a friendship that soon became an obsession, they lived in dream worlds, made up stories and were completely dependent on each other. Juliet (the future Anne Perry) had a very fragile health, a reason why her parents often chose to send her away. The marriage of Juliet’s parents is not working and they want to get a divorce. They decide to send Juliet to South Africa. The girls hope that Pauline will be allowed to come with her but Pauline’s mother is against it. She doesn’t approve of their friendship, correctly senses how unwholesome it is. That’s when the tragedy unfolds. Pauline who hates and despises her mother develops a plan that should allow them to stay together forever. In minute details she plans the murder of her own mother.

The brutality with which they execute their plan is quite a shocker. I still see the pictures in my mind.

They get caught because Pauline carelessly writes down everything in a diary. Both are sentenced but are left out of the correctional institution after two years. There is a condition however; they are not allowed to see each other again.

It wouldn’t be a Peter Jackson movie without any fantastic elements. He chose to show the fantasies of the girls, their dream world. I think I would have opted for a more sober way.

The two actresses are very good, they manage to convey the folly of the two girls brilliantly.

I found the movie to be disturbing for many reasons. Not only because they kill Pauline’s mother, which is quite horrible in itself, but also because I was wondering how you could go on living with a murder like this on your conscience and on top of that being separated from the most important person in your life. I would be interested to know how Pauline dealt with this. I did pity these two deluded girls.

As I said before, this is a highly disturbing movie but one that will keep you thinking for a long time. Also about the narrative technique chosen by Peter Jackson. What kind of movie would this have been, done by another director?

Last but not least, doesn’t it strike you as  highly uncanny to know that someone who committed such a brutal murder makes a living writing murder mysteries. Is this a means to come to terms with the past?

Crimeculture – Books, Movies and More







I found this great site Crimeculture today and wanted to share it with you as I know that many of you also love crime, thriller, detective and suspense novels and movies. It contains a lot of information, essays, articles, lists on books and films. You will find the books and movies organized by subgenres like Victorian Detective Fiction, Classic Detective Novels, Early Hard-Boiled… Film Noir, Neo Noir, Asian Detectives. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do. It’s a great resource.

Teresa Rodriguez: The Daughters of Juárez (2007) Roberto Bolaño, Bordertown and The Story That Wants to be Told

For more than twelve years, the city of Juárez, Mexico — just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas — has been the center of a horrific crime wave against women and girls. Consisting of kidnappings, rape, mutilation, and murder, most of the atrocities have involved young, slender, and poor victims — fueling the premise that the murders are not random. As for who is behind the crimes themselves, the answer remains unknown — though many have speculated that the killers are American citizens, and others have argued that the killings have become a sort of blood sport due to the lawlessness of the city itself. And despite numerous arrests over the last ten years, the murders continue to occur, with the killers growing bolder, dumping bodies in the city itself rather than on the outskirts of town, as was initially the case, indicating a possible growing and most alarming alliance of silence and cover-up by Mexican politicians.

The subtitle of this book reads A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border. Ciudad de Juárez must be one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. For women and men alike. I heard about the serial murders on poor maquiladora (assembly factories) workers while reading a blog post on MAC’s tasteless new cosmetics series, dedicated to the dead women of Juárez. I started to investigate and found numerous films online. I read that there has been a movie starring Jennifer Lopez, Bordertown (don’t think it is very good), which is dedicated to the Juárez murders and that even Bolaño’s novel 2666 was in large parts dedicated to those crimes. I had decided to tell their stories long before I read about Bolaño and since I haven’t read him yet, there is no actual influence here. My story is progressing slowly. Too many points of view. But I can’t stop. The story wants to be told. It feels odd. While writing I am stiil researching as well. This is the first nonfiction book on those dead women I picked up. It is probably what is called a true crime book. Something I never read but the story has a hold on me.

Ciudad the Juárez is a Mexican border town that has grown from 200’000 to 2’000’000 in 40 years. Factories from across the border have opened up their doors and hire cheap workers by the thousands. Preferably young women and girls. They make 3 – 5 dollars a day in 9-14 hour shifts. Many are as young as 12 and work with forged passports. Girls are preferred as they are cheaper and said to be more accurate on the assembly lines. In the factories they have air conditioning, clean toilets, showers, and light. I mention this because when they come home, they don’t have that. Many of them live in shacks. No lighting, no electricity, no warm water and a hole in the floor instead of a toilet. These are the poorest of the poor. Many of these girls and women work double shifts or go to school as well. They disappear on their way home from work or school. One after the other. Their families are so poor, they have no telephone, no mobile phone. When the girls go missing  a manifold ordeal begins. How do you get to the police to tell them someone is missing without a car? Once you are there, they tell you to wait 72 hours and come back. And they laugh and say your daughter is a loose girl and that she will come back eventually.

This happened to thousands of families. Many of the girls were never found. The others were found dead. I spare you too many details, just let me say that they were raped, tortured and mutilated and either left dying in the desert or disposed openly near the city.  And almost none of the killers has been found. Who kills the girls of Juárez? The police? Serial murders from the US? People who do snuff movies? Frustrated Mexican men? Drug dealers? Brujos? Satanists? The dead girls look all similar. They are between 17 and 25, slender, petite, with long dark hair and very pretty faces.

I am haunted by these stories. I cannot help much but I can raise awareness. And I can tell their stories. Below you see the remembrance crosses of some of the victims and an Amnesty International clip. Women’s organizations try to help now. Tereza Rodriguez is a reporter with Univision. Her book is full of stories and full of loose ends about the possible killers. It’s interesting and horrible to read. If you would like to know more, just go to youtube and type Ciudad the Juárez. There are movies from Women’s groups and mothers who mourn their daughters. Be prepared, this might be one of the darkest stories you will ever hear. No wonder some of the families think it’s the devil commiting these crimes. It is hard to believe that one human being does this to another one.