Translated from German by Anthea Bell
Penguin Books, 208 pages, $16 (c2011)
Fabrizio Collini is an Italian who has lived and worked in Berlin for decades. What would suddenly drive him to murder a prosperous businessman whom he had never met? Not just murder him, but deliver death blow after death blow. The victim was completely and thoroughly dead.
Caspar Leinen is a brand-new defense attorney. He was smart enough and impressive enough that he could have become a high-paying corporate business suit or an organization man, but he struck out on his own, to make his own way in the legal world. The very first case he is handed is to defend Collini. The question isn’t how can he get Collini off, but is there anything that could mitigate the charge against him?
Leinen is frustrated because his client will not talk to him, other than to say that he did indeed murder Jean-Baptiste Meyer. The motive remains a mystery.
Then a voice out of Leinen’s past calls him. It is a past love, Johanna, the sister of his best friend, who died tragically with his and Johanna’s parents. Leinen also had close ties with Johanna’s grandfather, Hans Meyer. Guess what! “Hans” was a nickname. The victim in Leinen’s first case is the man who was like a grandfather to him. Jean-Baptiste is Hans.
Ethically, morally, Leinen is in a quandary. What pulls him forward before making his fateful decision is a need to know what drove Collini to murder Meyer. Collini has impressed Leinen as a quiet giant, a polite, obedient man. Why, why, why?
Von Schirach’s narrative is spare, but he hits all the notes that will compel you to turn page after page after page. His resolution will take your breath away. (And don’t forget to read the historical note he has added at the end.) The Collini Case is a great, meticulously crafted courtroom drama, as well as a very touching novel about what it means to be part of a family.