The New York Times
Crimeby Ferdinand von Schirach
From Ferdinand von Schirach, one of Germany’s most prominent defense attorneys, comes a jolting debut collection of short stories that daringly brings to light the motivations stirring within the criminal mind. By turns witty and sorrowful, unflinchingly brutal and heartbreaking, the deeply affecting, quietly unnerving cases presented in Crime urge a closer examination of guilt and innocence.
In “Fähner,” a small-town physician and avid gardener betrays little emotion when he takes an ax to his wife’s head, an act that shocks the locals but provides a long-awaited reprieve for the good doctor. Abbas, a Palestinian refugee who is cornered into a life of crime, finds true love and seemingly a saving grace with a beautiful student named Stefanie in “Summertime.” But when she is viciously murdered in a hotel room after having been paid to sleep with one of the country’s wealthiest men, is Abbas to blame or is it the man who seems to have it all? And in the startling story “Love,” a young man’s infatuation with his girlfriend takes a grisly turn as he comes to grips with his unconventional—and uncontrollable—impulses to truly know a woman.
“Guilt,” writes von Schirach, “always presents a bit of a problem.” In this beautifully nuanced and telling collection, guilt is indeed never as clear-cut as the crime, and justice is more nebulous still.
The New York Times
“Crime would command the attention due a carnival freak-show if von Schirach’s crisp, swift prose did not lend it such laconic authority. Save in the sparest of hints, he shuns forensic psychology. Each tale whips along, a shock at every turn, like some beast with eyes of red-hot coal panting down a forest track at night. For, courtroom procedure aside, the spirit of the German-language Märchen really drives this book: eerie tales of the uncanny, as practiced by Hoffmann, Kleist, the Grimms, and even Kafka.” —Independent (UK)
"Mesmerizing. . .a slim, utterly absorbing collection of 11 stories. . .told in a cool, patient voice that draws the reader in. Von Schirach guides us through the unpredictable sequences of events that can maneuver regular, flawed people into unbearable positions, leading them to abhorrent acts. . .[He] has the talent to dazzle." --New York Times Book Review
"An extraordinary book about ordinary crime, written with suspense, insight, and beautiful precision by an experienced defense attorney. An authentic thriller." --Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader
An unusual, unsettling collection of short narratives, originally published in Germany in 2009, that blur the distinction between life and art.
Though this debut by German author von Schirach has been labeled "fiction," the short stories derive their authority from his reputation as one of Berlin's most prominent veteran defense attorneys. Each of these stories begins with a matter-of-fact, emotionless account of some situation leading to a crime, or at least the suspicion of one, with the unnamed narrator eventually entering to provide counsel for the accused. Are these straightforward accounts of actual cases—some never really resolved and some graphically gruesome? Do they use real-life incidents as inspiration for fictional recasting? Or are they (as at least a couple seem to be) parables or fables that illuminate the darker recesses of the human condition? While the author's experience sheds plenty of light on the legal system—at least the German legal system, with small but significant differences from its American counterpart—the narrative tone is closer to Kafka than to Grisham or Turow. Perhaps the strangest story here is "Self-Defense," in which a seemingly innocuous man viciously kills two thugs who have attempted to mug him. After arrest, he refuses to speak or to otherwise reveal anything about his identity or nationality. Even his clothes have been stripped of their labels. Was his lethal response permissible in self-defense? Was he also responsible for another killing, for which he was never charged? Who is he? Who arranged for his defense? The conventions of mystery fiction, which demand that plot strands must be tied together with a resolution, remain unsatisfied here and in many of the other stories. From the perspective of this particular defense attorney, matters such as "truth," "innocence" and "justifiable" are more complex than generally considered, perhaps even unknowable.
Thinly veiled memoir or literary gamesmanship? You be the judge.
- Chatto & Windus
- Publication date:
Meet the Author
Ferdinand von Schirach was born in Munich in 1964. Since 1994, he has worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Berlin. Among his clients have been the former member of the Politburo Günter Schabowski, the former East German spy Norbert Juretzko, and members of the underworld.
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This is an astonishing collection of short stories, each a little gem. If you like short stories, you must read it.