Guilt

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On a sweltering day in August, a small town drunkenly celebrates its six-hundredth anniversary with a funfair when an anonymous tip leads police to find a young woman brutally beaten, raped, and thrown under the floorboards of the very stage on which her attackers had just played a polka. An eight-member brass band composed of respectable family men with respectable day jobs is charged with the crime. A neophyte defense lawyer, still wet behind the ears and breaking in his attaché case, takes on the trial, only ...
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Guilt

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Overview

On a sweltering day in August, a small town drunkenly celebrates its six-hundredth anniversary with a funfair when an anonymous tip leads police to find a young woman brutally beaten, raped, and thrown under the floorboards of the very stage on which her attackers had just played a polka. An eight-member brass band composed of respectable family men with respectable day jobs is charged with the crime. A neophyte defense lawyer, still wet behind the ears and breaking in his attaché case, takes on the trial, only to lose his innocence in the process.
 
So begins Guilt, Ferdinand von Schirach’s tense, riveting collection of stories based on real crimes he has known. In these brief, succinct tales, von Schirach calls into question the nature of guilt and the toll it takes—or fails to take—on ordinary people. In “The Illuminati,” the popular mean crowd at an all-boys’ boarding school wages a vicious attack against an outsider schoolmate, and ends up accidentally killing the boy’s beloved teacher. Attempting to hurdle through a midlife crisis, a housewife begins to steal trivial things no one will miss, an act that gives her a rush and staves off depression in “Desire.” And in “Snow,” an old man whose home is used as a way station for a heroin ring agrees to protect the identity of the lead drug runner, who receives his comeuppance in due course.
 
Compassionate and seen with the same cool, controlled eye that propelled Ferdinand von Schirach’s debut collection, Crime, onto best-seller lists, Guilt is a stunning follow-up from one of Germany’s finest new writers.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Von Schirach (Crime) draws on his background as a criminal defense attorney in these fourteen stories-all based on real events-that call into question the nature of guilt and innocence. He does not pass judgment on his characters, opting instead to observe them through his sparse prose. In "Children," false accusations of sexual assault ruin the reputation of an innocent office furniture sales rep, and he considers murdering his accuser out of desperation. In "DNA," Nina and Thomas, a young homeless couple, get away with killing a man. Years later, once they have risen out of poverty, investigators find new evidence, reopen the case and bring the two in for questioning. The stories are rich with such details, as von Schirach consistently captures the humanity of his subjects and forces readers to reconsider the morality of their decisions. The most striking piece is "Anatomy," a brief but powerful journey into the mind of a man planning to kill a woman who had rejected him. The story is gruesome both in the details of his murderous plot and in the ethical quandary von Schirach presents when the man is struck dead by a speeding car before he can commit his crime. The driver is convicted of manslaughter, and readers are left wondering where guilt really lies. Though his stories are succinct, von Schirach manages to absorb, repulse, and shock readers through his economy of language in this transcendent collection.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"[Von Schirach is] an exceptional prose stylist . . . There's a trick to many of his stories, one that works every time. A narrator describes a terrible crime in a controlled tone that withholds judgment and even verges on amusement. That tone is von Schirach's great achievement: understated, resigned, worldly, hard-boiled." —The New York Times Book Review

"These are compressed, matter-of-fact accounts which...often read like existential parables that probe the limits of the law in exploring the mysteries of the human heart and psyche . . . Though the narratives are often as terse as the best hard-boiled crime fiction, the most compelling tales have a philosophical dimension reminiscent of Kafka or Camus." —Kirkus

"Von Schirach describes each case in a straightforward, unemotional manner that makes each story all the more searing. The emotional impact of these tales is powerful; no crime novelist could invent stories more unsettling . . . The question of guilt and innocence, how an individual’s case adjudicated in court, and the consequences of being involved—even tangentially—in a criminal act, will resonate." —Library Journal

Library Journal
German defense attorney von Schirach follows his stunning debut, Crime, with a second collection drawn from his own experiences. Here, each of the 15 narratives describes a criminal act that radically changes the life of the protagonist or victim. In "Funfair," a teenage girl becomes the victim of a gang rape, but there is no proof. "The Illuminati" chronicles the all-too-familiar experiences of a boy being bullied at his upscale private school. "Children" limns the downfall of an upstanding citizen accused of child molestation. Schirach describes each case in a straightforward, unemotional manner that makes each story all the more searing. The emotional impact of these tales is powerful; no crime novelist could invent stories more unsettling. Although the German judicial system is somewhat different from that of the United States, it won't make a difference to the reader. The question of guilt or innocence, how an individual's case is adjudicated in court, and the consequences of being involved—even tangentially—in a criminal act, will resonate. VERDICT Readers of true crime novels like those of Ann Rule should enjoy these terse, moving short stories.—Andrea Kempf, formerly at Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Kirkus Reviews
The second volume of unusual case histories by a German defense attorney with a literary flair. As a follow-up to Crime (2011), this very similar collection can't offer the revelatory impact of its predecessor, nor the consistency (the reader suspects that the best stories were used in the earlier book). Yet its combination of legal experience and literary command will continue to find favor with those who appreciated the debut. These are compressed, matter-of-fact accounts which the author maintains are based on criminal cases in which he was involved, but often read like existential parables that probe the limits of the law in exploring the mysteries of the human heart and psyche. The opening "Funfair" details an inexplicable gang rape by "perfectly normal men" of a young victim who had consciously done nothing to turn these men into animals. "Later nobody could explain anything," says the author, who was then a young lawyer, and for whom the case would provide a rite of passage, an initiation, when it became obvious that the law could do nothing, that "legal proceedings would end here and that guilt was another matter entirely" and that "we knew we'd lost our innocence and that this was irrelevant." Though the narratives are often as terse as the best hard-boiled crime fiction, the most compelling tales have a philosophical dimension reminiscent of Kafka or Camus. In "The Other Man," a narrative of random sex and its complications, the author writes of a woman who had never anticipated the consequences of desire. Other stories are slighter, with O. Henry twists, but they are also relatively short. These stories are specifically about crime and the law, but they more generally encompass the human condition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307599490
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 0.76 (d)

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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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 28, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    More Haunting Crime Stories

    My biggest disappointment was that this collection seemed shorter than the first. Haunting and often ironic, von Schirach captures an absurdist world of true-life crime from his own case files as a defense lawyer in Germany. His style is spare and his stark way of telling the stories makes them even more effective. He manages to presents the stories simply yet suggests the complex world of motivation beneath. I hope there are more such collections to come.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    River and Breeze

    River nods and stands up. Slowly she makes her way back. Breeze looks at Grey Wolf and follows.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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