Von Schirach, a prominent German advocate for the accused and author of two story collections (Guilt; Crime), disappoints with this present-day legal thriller, a “whydunit.” Fabrizio Collini, a toolmaker in his late 70s, pretends to be a reporter for an Italian newspaper when he calls on 85-year-old Jean-Baptiste Meyer, a German businessman, in his room at Berlin’s Hotel Adlon. Collini later confesses to shooting Meyer four times in the head, and then stamping repeatedly on Meyer’s face. Caspar Leinen, who has just begun work as a defense lawyer, accepts the case before realizing that Meyer’s real name is Hans Meyer, and that he’s an old friend; but Collini wants Leinen to stay on the case, despite this personal connection. Given the advanced ages of the two principals, readers will have no trouble guessing that the killer’s motive has something to do with WWII. Even the courtroom scenes lack genuine drama. (Aug.)
In this international best seller, fledging defense lawyer Caspar Leinen despairs over a client who admits to the murder of a leading industrialist at a classy Berlin hotel but offers no explanation. Eventually, Leinen must untangle unpleasant truths about the German legal system stretching back to World War II.
Because the murderer makes no attempt to hide his crime, the mystery is the motive in this concise legal thriller. Caspar Leinen is a new lawyer; smart, hardworking, burdened with a sense of justice, even righteousness, but not fool enough to think this will excuse him from having to make a living. His first case is a sensational murder. Fabrizio Collini has killed a man: He admits as much, and the evidence is all over him. When Leinen learns he has a personal connection to the victim, he attempts to back out, but an older colleague, the famous Richard Mattinger, dissuades him. Mattinger is the victim's lawyer, the auxiliary counsel for the prosecution. It is not necessarily a matter of virtue that persuades Leinen to stay on the case. We know what will happen--the question is how: Evil is in the devil, the devil in the details. 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. Von Schirach, prominent defense attorney in Germany, author of two highly regarded short story collections (Guilt, 2012, etc.), is renowned for his tone, the evenness with which he treats his facts, the unforced suspense that unnerves his readers. It is the care von Schirach takes with history, with the return of the repressed, that makes this short book remarkable.