Expert witness

Seldom have I enjoyed a novel by a new crime novelist as much as I enjoyed Ferdinand von Schirach's The Collini Case. Von Schirach is already well known in Germany where he has had a book of short stories based on his career as a criminal defence lawyer already published. The Collini Case is thoroughly enjoyable, occasionally shocking, and is a book that really did make a difference as it prompted a change in the law in Germany.

Young Caspar Leinen, a recently qualified lawyer doing his pro-bono duty is assigned to the defence of the eponymous Collini, who walked into a hotel and shot dead an elderly successful businessman. Collini has no defence, the elderly gent seems the epitome of all that is good about German society, and then, shockingly, Leinen discovers that the victim was the grandfather of his best friend, and much beloved by him as a boy. His duty as a lawyer though persuades him to keep defending the murderer of his childhood friend. As Collini's motive becomes clearer Leinen is returned to the world of Nazi Germany, a time that is not as distant as he would like to believe it is.....

This is a wonderfully well-written novel. Unputdownable. If it hadn't been for a friend's house-move, I don't think I would have moved from my sofa throughout the weekend, I was so eager to finish this. It's not got the excitement of your standard thriller, but it's one of those great courtroom procedurals that just grabs you and won't let go (think Dorothy L. Sayers' Strong Poison, Rattigan's The Winslow Boy or Perry Mason at his very best and then add some).

Von Schirach plays expertly with the reader's emotions taking them on a rollercoaster ride along with the likeable young lawyer Leinen. It reveals a Germany that has moved forward dramatically since its Nazi days, but that is still on occasion embroiled in the tentacles of its past. Von Schirach writes at least partly from personal experience -  his grandfather was Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth, and one of the Nazis who was sentenced at the Nuremberg trials. Although Von Schirach was only a small child when his grandfather was released from prison and shortly after died, the impact on his family is clear in some of the more poignant moments of the novel as some of the characters struggle to deal with their own family's Nazi past.

It's a superb debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from Ferdinand von Schirach. Great debut.


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