The Collini Case

The Collini Case

by Ferdinand von Schirach


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The internationally bestselling courtroom drama centering on a young German lawyer and a case involving World War II

A bestseller in Germany since its 2011 release—with rights sold in seventeen countries—The Collini Case combines the classic courtroom procedural with modern European history in a legal thriller worthy of John Grisham and Scott Turow.

Fabrizio Collini is recently retired. He’s a quiet, unassuming man with no indications that he’s capable of hurting anyone. And yet he brutally murders a prominent industrialist in one of Berlin’s most exclusive hotels.

Collini ends up in the charge of Caspar Leinen, a rookie defense lawyer eager to launch his career with a not-guilty verdict. Complications soon arise when Collini admits to the murder but refuses to give his motive, much less speak to anyone. As Leinen searches for clues he discovers a personal connection to the victim and unearths a terrible truth at the heart of Germany’s legal system that stretches back to World War II. But how much is he willing to sacrifice to expose the truth?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143125648
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/27/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 654,768
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ferdinand Von Schirach is one of Germany’s most prominent defense lawyers and a prolific author. His short story collections, Crime and Guilt, were instant bestsellers in Germany and have been translated in more than thirty territories. He lives in Berlin.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A magnificent storyteller” – Der Spiegel  
“A miracle of purpose and precision that leaves most bloated thrillers on the starting blocks.” – Financial Times 
“Everything about Ferdinand von Schirach and The Collini Case… is extraordinary.” – Sunday Times (London)
“Terrific” – Elle (Germany)
“Von Schirach has a style that is elegant, precise and lean.” – The Toronto Star
“Not just entertaining but historically significant” – Library Journal
“The pleasures of the book are its particulars: of the law and how it is practiced in Germany, the anecdotes that give agency and motive to the characters, fascinating tidbits about detonators, the description of an autopsy. This is the stock and trade of crime fiction. All the conventions—even a love interest—are present; a regular reader will check boxes off a list, and yet this book works magic.” – Kirkus
“But the way Leinen digs for facts… animate what is a tight-lipped but involving mystery.” – Booklist
The Collini Case takes off running and, without manipulation or stunts other than a brilliantly orchestrated plot, proceeds to tell a whopper of a tale.” – ShelfAwareness
“This certainly isn’t a comfortable story, but it is an important one… and like all the best murder mysteries, this one has a twist.” – The Spectator (UK)
“Don’t tell John Grisham but legal dramas don't actually need to be gratuitously cliffhanger-packed, 4,000 page affairs… Von Schirach’s economy of writing and knowledge of his subject are key to The Collini Case’s success.” – Metro (UK)
“…Extremely persuasive. The trial scenes are excellent.” – The Scotsman
“This is a small gem – sly, trenchant and provocative, none of its conclusions foregone.” – The Guardian

Reading Group Guide

1. Ferdinand von Schirach has been praised by critics for his sense of literary style. Choose a passage from The Collini Case that you found especially interesting and discuss the aspects of the writing that stand out for you. You might especially consider Schirach’s choices of detail and his ability to waste few words in producing a desired effect.

2. In The Collini Case, Caspar Leinen argues that Fabrizio Collini’s killing of Hans Meyer was justifiable because Collini did not have an adequate remedy under German law. What, then, if Johanna Meyer were to kill Collini and make a similar argument, i.e., that Collini deserved to die for brutally slaying her grandfather, but that German law has no death penalty? Would Leinen’s logic justify her killing of Collini? Can vigilante justice ever be an acceptable solution?

3. Discuss the character of Collini. Are you satisfied with how well Schirach lets us get to know him? What might Schirach’s motives have been for making Collini so quiet and for not delving deeper into his personality?

4. Johanna goes to bed with Leinen despite the fact that he is defending the killer of her beloved grandfather. What are Johanna’s overall motivations as a character, and do they make sense to you?

5. Concerning Leinen’s thoughts about Johanna, Schirach writes, “He realized that they were not ‘in love,’ that was a meaningless concept — this was simply the way they were” (p. 86). How can being in love be a meaningless concept? Discuss Leinen’s attitude toward emotion and how it fits the mood of the novel.

6. Leinen’s incapacity to attach meaning to love is one way in which his character resists the expectations that are typically placed on a fictional hero. In what other ways does he resist the usual label of “hero”? Is he nevertheless heroic?

7. Shirach’s text frequently revisits the theme of dismemberment and brutal injury, sometimes lingering over the gruesome details: Philipp’s decapitation; Mattinger’s missing arm; the path of a bullet through a young girl’s throat. Yet these facts are often conveyed with very little emotion. What do Schirach’s depictions of violence and physical loss contribute to his story?

8. To what extent, if at all, should former members of the military be held criminally responsible for their actions during war, the very essence of which is violence and death? Is it fair to condemn someone for doing what was either legally acceptable or practically necessary at the time?

9. What obligations does a person have to resist when his/her country is pursuing immoral policies? Try considering this question both in light of The Collini Case and other situations, e.g., paying taxes to support an unjust war, an out-of-control arms race, or covert aid to a brutal dictatorship. Where should a citizen draw the line between doing what’s right and just going along?

10. In The Collini Case, because Hans Meyer was not prosecuted for his activities as an SS officer, he was able to become a highly respected citizen and a major industrialist, responsible for creating countless jobs and adding untold millions to the German economy. If we take Leinen’s word, Meyer became “a thoroughly decent man” after the war (p. 61). Would “justice” have been served by putting such a man in prison, given all the good that would have been lost in doing so?

11. What does Hans Meyer’s reminiscence about the death of his mother’s horse (p. 27–28) tell us about his character? What role does this vignette play in the larger context of the novel?

12. What do you think of a legal system that provides for the defense of someone like Collini, who obviously committed the crime and, indeed, desires no defense? Why should rights and procedures be important in such a situation?

13. At the end of the novel, Johanna asks Leinen, “Am I all those things too?” Leinen responds, “You’re who you are” (p. 186). What does she mean? What does he mean?

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