A short, sharp German legal thriller…

The Collini Caseby Ferdinand Von Schirach, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

The author of The Collini Case, a prominent German defence lawyer himself, honed his writing on short stories – case histories of gruesome and shocking crimes, of people who get away with murder and the like. His first novel, a courtroom drama, isn’t long either, but he does pack a whole lot of story into its 160 pages.

It starts with a murder. A prominent German businessman is killed by Fabrizio Collini, a quiet Italian who has worked for Mercedes Benz for decades. Caspar Leinen, a young defence lawyer takes on the case – a good result will make his name. However, after accepting it, he finds out that the victim was known to him and he is unable to get out of the case. Collini admits guilt, but refuses to give a motive – it doesn’t look good for Leinen’s reputation. We read about how Caspar got to where he is, and his relationship with the deceased. We see how the German justice system works; Leinen’s case is surely doomed – and before we know it, we’re at page 100. Then he makes a discovery. Everything changes and the rest of the novel is turbocharged by its results towards a dramatic courtroom conclusion.

It’s a taut novel, which has been a best-seller already in Germany. It doesn’t get bogged down with court procedure, keeping to the essentials only, and not over-dramatising the lawyers’ performances. There’s no melodrama here, yet the book works brilliantly as a gripping legal thriller that can be read in one sitting. I enjoyed it so much I almost wished it had been longer, but its brevity is a large part of why it was so good!  (8.5/10)

Von Schirach has an interesting history which obviously influences and informs his own writing, for his grandfather was tried for Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg. There was an interesting article in the Guardian which you can link to here, which tells more (slight spoiler alert though). You can also read Simon S’s reviews of his short stories here – I’m keen to read the first collection, Crime, in particular now.

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I received an ARC of this book from Amazon Vine.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

The Collini Caseby Ferdinand Von Schirach. Pub Sept 13 by Michael Joseph, Hdbk.
Crime by Ferdinand Von Schirach – short stories, 2011.

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Murder – the lawyer’s tale

The Child Who by Simon Lelic

After writing a spec fiction thriller for his second novel The Facility, review here, Lelic returns to give us a different take on familiary territory for his third. His stunning debut Rupture, review here, was a Whydunnit which explored how a teacher came to murder his pupils. The Child Who takes its inspiration from the tragic murder of Jamie Bulger, but frames its story through the eyes of a child murderer’s solicitor.

Leo Curtice is a jobbing solicitor based in Exeter, used to picking up all the drunk and disorderly cases at the weekends, and thinking there must be more to life than this. Then one day, he’s the duty solicitor when the call comes about a new case –  “I think you should take this,” he’s told, and he says yes. This is where Leo’s life changes forever.

Leo is introduced to Daniel.  Daniel is twelve, they say he murdered Felicity Forbes, his classmate. Her body was found in the river. Daniel has clammed up and Leo has to find a way to get him to communicate. The police have a witness and evidence.  Could diminished responsibility be a defence strategy?

This case should be the making of Leo’s career, but in defending a child murderer, Leo is unprepared for everything else that happens. In a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome he finds himself bonding with Daniel, much to his wife and teenaged daughter Ellie’s utter disgust. They can’t understand why he’s putting the case before them, and he can’t see that it’s hurting their relationship. He hadn’t accounted either for the reaction of the public – everyone hates a child murderer, and they hate him for defending his client.  This hatred extends to Leo’s family, and it soon escalates out of control; his daughter gets bullied at school, he gets pelted with eggs going into court. He can’t let go of the case, but there’s a lot worse still to come…

In The Child Who, Lelic once more shows his abilities to get under the skin of his subject and by approaching it from a different angle finding a new way of telling a story. It may lack the freshness of Rupture with its unique reveal structure, but it doesn’t have his debut’s slightly clichéd lead character of a policewoman who has to try too hard.

Instead, in Leo we have a man who is jaded and on the edge of a mid-life crisis, a state of mind which, when offered this stimilus takes over until it is too late. Leo is fully formed, and we see almost everything through his lens, knowing no more than he does at any time. Because of this obsession, his wife and daughter become rather sidelined as characters at the start allowing Daniel to dominate, which allows Lelic to comment on how the system treats young offenders. Notably, the victim and her family scarcely feature at all.

Less of a legal drama, more a psycho-thriller, the moral dilemmas are disturbing which make this an uneasy yet compelling read, and confirm Lelic’s status as a literary star in the making. (8.5/10)

See what some others thought of The Child Who: Reader Dad, Farm Lane Books and David Hebblethwaite.

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My copy was supplied by the Amazon Vine programme.
To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Child Who by Simon Lelic, pub Mantle books, Jan 2012, hardback 320 pages.
Rupture, The Facilityalso by Simon Lelic, paperbacks.