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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach, translated by Anthea Bell




A man walks into a bar…well, not quite.  A man walks into an apartment.  He’s Fabrizio Maria Collini and he’s middle aged and has never murdered anyone.  That’s about to change.  He kills with a rawness that turns your stomach and rakes your flesh.

This is a rare novel.  Grabs you and won’t let go.  Fiction based on truth.  The laws exist.  The characters do not.

Schirach tells Colini’s story brilliantly, through the eyes of the public defender.

Köhler is an advocate with a quick mind and a sparkling academic record.  What he doesn’t have is experience.  This is his first case.  On the other side, the prosecutor carries a streak of unbroken successes and a reputation for digging through overturned lives and using facts as skillfully as a sushi chef slicing tuna.

Köhler’s job won’t be easy. Collini tells him, “I killed a man.”  He doesn’t want to be defended and he doesn’t want to talk about his reasons.

Köhler’s own background also offers layers of both sweetness and sadness, dusted with unfulfillment.  Love. Relationships.  They wind and unwind throughout the book, in twisted strands.

Like all good courtroom dramas, The Collini Case wriggles and turns like a snake impaled on a sharp stick.  The writing is brisk, lean and sharp, like strokes of a razor.  In something over 180 pages, the prose magically flutters past like clots of blood in a heavy wind.

I read a lot of book jackets, mining for those rare gems that will chain me to the plot and characters, leaving me sleepless and ravenous for just one more page.

The Collini Case is among the crown jewels.  The story is skillfully terse, with a pace that will suck the air from your lungs.  Why does one man simply walk into an apartment and kill another? How can you defend such indefensible and senseless brutality?  How do you defend a client who refuses to talk to you, or to the police?

The problem stands as impenetrable as a stone wall, but even a wall, if you look closely enough, is marred by cracks and fissures. They spread in all directions and time grows short.

Fissures never reveal more than slender promises.  When you find what you think is a diamond of truth, it suddenly proves to be only sparkling ice on a summer sidewalk.

And yet, there are always more cracks and you soon realize eventually you will reach bedrock.

The Collini Case surpasses simple, well-written entertainment.  It’s also education, of the kind that leaves you questioning the very fabric of society.  But, let me warn you, the answers do not rest on the well-worn saws of “it’s society’s fault” and “he wasn’t given enough love as a child.”  Those are cheesecloth, allowing any kind-hearted argument to drip through.

No.  The Collini Case rest on cold, solid facts and its telling will enthrall you and strain your confidence in right and wrong.