Book review: The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach


The Collini Case
by Ferdinand von Schirach
translated by Anthea Bell
Penguin/Michael Joseph 2012
(first published in Germany 2011)

The Collini Case is a novella: 160 or so pages of large type, with each chapter starting on a right-hand page (so plenty of white space). Therefore, any review is likely to give away too much in advance for the reader of this brief tale.

The centrepiece of the book is a courtroom drama. The defendant, Collini, is an Italian who has lived in Germany for all his adult life, first as a guestworker. As the book opens, he enters a hotel and, on the pretext of being a journalist, brutally kills an elderly industrialist millionaire. Collini does not try to escape, but he won’t speak to anyone, either.

The pleasures of the story are in the procedural details of the case (including a few pages of detail about the post-mortem which are hard to read if you are the slightest bit sensitive). The defending lawyer, Caspar Leinen, is a young idealist; part of the book tells his life-story and his connection with the victim’s family, which is very poignant and well done.

As a defence lawyer, of course, Leinen feels a moral obligation to find out why Collini committed the crime, even though Collini himself will not speak. Eventually, he thinks he has found a clue, but inevitably simply discovering the truth is not going to be sufficient to see that justice is done. Perhaps the revelations near the end will not come as a surprise, but they are nevertheless moving and powerful.

The Collini Case is an extremely readable book, ably translated by the highly honoured Anthea Bell. It is easy to see why it has been a bestseller in Germany since it was first published there in 2011.

I obtained this book via Amazon Vine.

Spiegel online: fascinating article in which the author discusses his grandfather’s past. I recommend not reading it unless you don’t mind knowing in advance what this book is going to be about.

YouTube video about the book.

Every blurb and review I’ve read of the book gives away far too much of the plot for such a short book, so if you plan to read it I suggest you do as I did and just read it without knowing anything about it! (The John Grisham-style cover is a sufficient hint as to the contents.)