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on 16 June 2015
The Collini Case
The quality of the writing - plain, event driven with only minimal flashbacks. Reminded me of Stoner by John Williams. The facts and just the facts. The author is a well-known criminal lawyer in Germany. His previous efforts are based on his criminal cases and his writing has a confidence and ease that denote comfort and familiarity with the areas in which he writes. This is a not a courtroom drama as some reviewers have said. It cannot, at all, be compared with To Kill a Mockingbird or anything by John Grisham or Michael Connelly.

The book is very short; the courtroom scenes are perfunctory preliminary hearings apart from a short denouement at the end of the book. On one level this is a simple story of a murder and nemesis. On another level it is an examination of the legality of acts of war and attempts by modern Germany to come to terms with the actions of an earlier generation. The author is the great grandson of the leader of the Hitler Youth. The book is a personal and a national journey dealing with dreadful events and the long-term consequences of individual acts. The conscience of a nation versus the impossible resolution of `I was only following orders'.

My only criticism is that the denouement, which I'm bound to say was predictable, was dealt with too quickly. The final scenes could have been explored to a greater degree and with more reflection on contemporary German mores as to how and why events were allowed to be insulated from necessary justice. It is difficult to explain my point in greater detail without giving the plot away. But I highly recommend the book as a murder story and a legal drama (but not anchored in a courtroom) and I give 5 stars.
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I found this a gripping, well-written and thoughtful book.

The plot summary seems to feature many of the clichés of the genre - a young, inexperienced lawyer agrees to defend a murder case but finds that his client obviously committed the crime but won't say why. The lawyer finds that he has a close personal connection to the victim and to his family. His legal opponent is a brilliant, powerful and respected lawyer and the victim one of the richest and most influential men in Germany whose past begins to emerge... It all sounds like the usual sort of legal/conspiracy blockbuster, but is in fact very different. This is a brief, concentrated and quietly powerful book celebrating personal and legal integrity and making important points about the manipulation of the law.

The narrative is beautifully constructed and excellently told (and translated) in unflashy prose which I found gave it real strength and drive. The characters and dialogue are wholly believable and the tension in the courtroom scenes builds very well. This may perhaps make more impact in Germany where the legal revelations are more directly relevant, but as a non-German I still found it very gripping and very interesting.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm in two minds about this book. It is certainly a good yarn, well told in a grave and measured tone and totally without humour. There are the obligatory elements for a mystery, the question of motivation, the mysterious and beautiful woman and a whole van load of lawyers - this is a legal mystery.

But. Its a very short book and reads like the synopsis of what could have been a very good and much longer novel. I think this is a shame and will look out for more by this author in the hope that his publisher can encourage him to expand a little more next time.
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on 8 August 2014
To date, Ferdinand von Schirach (FvS) has published two collections of legal cases and one legal thriller. They are short works that became bestsellers in his native Germany when published in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He is also Germany's most famous defense lawyer. There, his work is widely read not only by law students but also by a general public he has made aware of the strengths, weaknesses and quirks in German criminal law. And because of his unique family background.
"The Collini case" is about the brutal murder of an 85-year old industrialist in a top Berlin hotel room in May 2001. The murderer is a giant of a man, an Italian auto worker at a Mercedes factory of unspoken behaviour, retired after 37 years of service. He notified the hotel staff of what he had done. Arrested, he confesses but remains silent about his motive. His court-appointed defense lawyer is recently-graduated Caspar Leinen.

Young Caspar is shocked because of his closeness to the victim, who was his substitute grandfather. Legal and moral issues emerge: should he take the case and if so, how to build a defense case for a murderer who does not want to be defended? He chooses a pro-active defense and surges ahead, researching the personal and family history of the murderer and his victim. Here this reviewer stops about what happens next.

On to the message of this book, as far as I understand it. The key question appears to be: who exactly can be called a murderer during WWII and be charged with murder under German law, before and after a fateful amendment passed without vote on 1 October 1968? The 1947 Nurnberg trials indicted and sentenced only top Nazis for murder although it is likely that none had killed anyone personally. All those below who executed their orders, real or in their spirit, in their many awful capacities all over Europe, faced a potential charge of being accessories to murder, whose statute of limitation is not life-long as for murder, but 20 years...
Attentive law students will spot another German WW II war crime committed all over Europe, to confirm or dispel von Schirach's claim that the practice was sanctioned, albeit under strict conditions, by 1940s International Law.
Ferdinand von Schirach is economical with words, plots brilliantly, creates a crime and a search for the truth and several family histories, even a fleeting love affair, then a courtroom drama. Also enjoy Caspar chatting with the baker operating below his office: FvS is a natural storyteller and writer. Finally, his international success depends very much on the quality of his translators.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found this a gripping, well-written and thoughtful book.

The plot summary seems to feature many of the clichés of the genre - a young, inexperienced lawyer agrees to defend a murder case but finds that his client obviously committed the crime but won't say why. The lawyer finds that he has a close personal connection to the victim and to his family. His legal opponent is a brilliant, powerful and respected lawyer and the victim one of the richest and most influential men in Germany whose past begins to emerge... It all sounds like the usual sort of legal/conspiracy blockbuster, but is in fact very different. This is a brief, concentrated and quietly powerful book celebrating personal and legal integrity and making important points about the manipulation of the law.

The narrative is beautifully constructed and excellently told (and translated) in unflashy prose which I found gave it real strength and drive. The characters and dialogue are wholly believable and the tension in the courtroom scenes builds very well. This may perhaps make more impact in Germany where the legal revelations are more directly relevant, but as a non-German I still found it very gripping and very interesting.
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on 30 April 2016
3.5 stars

Given the impact and significance of this novella upon release in 2011 and the discussion that it has generated it seems almost inconsequential to comment on The Collini Case as simply a piece of storytelling. The author, Ferdinand von Schirach, is well known in
Germany as a prominent defence lawyer and also as the grandson of the founder of the Hitler Youth movement, and I suspect the majority of readers will approach this fully informed of its subject matter.

When retired Fabrizio Collini calmly takes the lift up to the fourth floor and violently murders esteemed eighty-five year old industrialist Hans Meyer and offers no explanation for his actions the authorities are baffled. Von Schirach merely tells his readers that:

"Collini waited to be arrested. He had waited all his life, and he had held his peace all that time."

The police turn to the legal aid roster as despite his silence Collini needs representation. This arrives is the form of idealistic and forty-two days qualified lawyer Caspar Leinen eagerly seeking his first brief. Leinen has eschewed the advances of the huge legal practices where young lawyers are one of many and career progression has a tendency to mean less time defending actual clients. Too late, Leinen finds out that he has a historic connection to the victim and it appears that he may have to stand down. Yet when Collini seems to have no problem with this connection Leinen continues in his role. Six months later the court is perplexed as Collini maintains his silence and they discover that he has an unblemished legal record and is regarded as a man of good repute in his former Italian home.

It is only when Leinen makes a crucial discovery that the situation is altered and he is faced with the ultimate moral dilemma. Can he keep his silence or does he use this new information to form an argument for the defence? With his own childhood closely connected to the case and friendships and reputations at stake he is presented with the question; to what extent can a person be held up for their actions of a war torn past? The clues to the subject matter are highlighted throughout in a fairly heavy-handed manner, from the age differences of the men involved, the nationalities and murder weapon, a standard military issue pistol, but despite this I still felt a tension throughout these disclosures in the build up to the confirmation of this.

Von Schirach's economical use of words throughout is hugely effective and conveys the significance of the subject matter. The brutality of the murder and the clinical and chilling description of the autopsy remain at the back of your mind as proceedings progress. The courtroom scenes with its tensions and undercurrents are extremely well drawn, probably due to von Schirach's own familiarity with the system. Von Schirach even addresses the question of why Collini had waited all this time to exact his revenge.

The reader is not offered much of an insight into Caspar Leinen and we learn little about the man at the centre of this story, marking him out as a point of neutrality. I suspect that von Schirach has intentionally made this so. Fabrizio Collini is also depicted in a relatively stark manner and we are offered little insight into the character of the man, probably again as the author intended. Something I did find a little hard to swallow was Leinen's thoughts after his presents his dramatic information in the courtroom:

"He thought of Hans Meyer. He could almost feel the old man patting his head."

As the novella drew to a close and and references to the Nazi history became more frequent, in particular regarding the Statute of Limitations I must admit I became a little bogged down. That The Collini Case was cited as a point of reference for a change in German legal system in 2011 demonstrates its importance in changing history. The legal debate and the memories of a Germany with a Nazi past are not for me to preach on, but as a dramatic novella which packs a punch this works well, yet as I reached the climax the feeling remains that this work was used as a means to an end in instigating a closer look at legislation, and not simply as a work of fiction. As I turned the final page of The Collini Case my thoughts flashed back to the murder scene, with the hotel rooms view of the Brandenburg Gate and the memories of just what a divided nation Germany once was.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel).
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on 1 May 2015
My sister gave me The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach as a Christmas present. I had not heard of the book nor the author. However she established her local book group and reads a lot. So I trusted her judgment and was sure this would be a book that I would enjoy. It is a murder mystery, but not in the traditional style.

The author was born in Munich, Germany, in 1964. By profession he is a lawyer as well as a writer. He studied in Bonn, Koln and Berlin before specialising in criminal law. The Collini Case was published in 2011. It reached no. 2 on the bestseller list of Der Spiegel. The book tells of the murder of the industrialist Hans Meyer, who had been a Nazi officer in Italy. It deals, controversially, with the sometimes excessively mild ways in which the post World War II justice system in Germany dealt with former Nazis. The Collini Case is a fictional account of a murder that took place in Berlin.

During World War II both Germans and Allies routinely shot civilians in reprisal for attacks on their armed forces. This question plagued the defence of an Italian man named Fabrizio Collini some sixty years later. This book by Ferdinand von Schirach is based upon that historical trial.

Collini, who has lived in Germany since the 1950s, enters the luxury hotel suite of a man named Hans Meyer. They are near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He shoots him from behind, repeatedly, and stamps in his skull until it no longer resembles a skull. He gets himself arrested, says that he did it. Motive unapparent. A young defence lawyer called Caspar Leinen is given the case. It is his first.

The author describes the killing and post mortem with an eerie economy of words. He is quite clinical in his treatment of events. Even with Leinen’s lovemaking; the author flits between describing Leinen's seduction and the view from the window.

However, the pace of the novel quickens towards its conclusion, but the first drama occurs early on. Leinen realizes that he knew the deceased and his family, and is now being asked to defend his killer. When the plan to get his client to confess to manslaughter fails, he proceeds to uncover any possible motives for murder. Collini is seemingly wholly unconnected to Hans Meyer. This is a tense murder mystery.

Perhaps it is because its secrets lie in the War and the German legal system of the mid twentieth century, or perhaps it is because the contemporary German legal system is so dramatically unlike the British legal system, but I found myself forgetting that Collini’s trial is set in the twenty-first century. As a character, Leinen would seem more at home in the 1930s. His daily routine is grey and timeless. For Leinen, for the prosecutor Mattinger, and possibly for the author, long hours in chambers may have precluded their full immersion in society. But that lack does contribute greatly to the oppressive, grey mood that prevails in the book.

This certainly is not a comfortable story, but it is an important one. Von Schirach’s late grandfather was the Reich Youth Leader of the Nazi Party, and the Collini case clearly resonates on a personal, but also a more universal human level. I found myself sucked into the perturbations of justice this case unfurls. And like all the best murder mysteries, this one has a twist.

My sister made a great choice when she chose this book for me. It is an excellent novel. The translation from the German is fluent and seamless. I highly recommend The Collini Case.
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on 30 September 2014
Puzzling. It's readable enough, and, at under 200 pages, short too. It's certainly got nothing in common with the superlatives on the front and as for the idea that it 'hints at the truth at the heart of modern Germany' it's hardly a surprise or a spoiler to think there are elderly Germans still alive today with 1940s pasts that are despicable.

As someone who has studied German history covering the period 1871 to the present day, and having lived in the country for 4 years, I found this added disappointingly little to any knowledge of modern Germany or its customs and culture. Which given the blurb, you imagined this was the kind of insight coming.

That said, the novel works reasonably well as a courtroom drama and the best scenes are those in court with good, thought-provoking dialogue. The characters are a bit stilted though. Collini is more alive in the scenes from his childhood. The book opens with him committing the murder and then sitting calmly in the hotel lobby waiting to be arrested While the book then explores Collini's motive there's no plausible reason why he wouldn't just set this out for his lawyer as opposed to the lawyer having to delve deeply to get there. Ah, the lawyer. Pretty much abandoned by both parents on their divorce he comes through all this trauma plus the death of his putative adoptive parents and best friend with barely a hint of scarring.

Overall you get the idea that the author has simply written this to make a point about the German legal system and, to be fair, he achieves this. But a novel to write home about? Not really. And once the point is made the book just ends. Abruptly. Like that. Rather lazily, I'd suggest.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 December 2013
One day of a baking hot German Summer a man of exceptional appearance, enters the hotel room of Hans Meyer and kills him brutally, shooting him in the head and then smashing in his skull so that he is barely identifiable. The killer takes a moment to calm himself, then calls the police.

The perpetrator is an Italian man, Fabrizio Collini, who has worked for Merceedes-Benz for thirty four years in Germany and has never been in trouble before. Collini admits the murder, but will say nothing about why he did it. Collini is assigned a defence attorney, a young untried lawyer, Caspar Leinen, who then discovers that the dead man was known to him and spent much of his youth as a friend of Philippe, Meyer's son. To complicate things he has also become attracted to Philippe's sister Johanna.

At first Leinen wants to be relieved by another lawyer, but something about the case nags at him, and soon he is on the trail of an explanation for the murder. Despite an attempt to buy him off, he is determined to unravel the facts. This will lead to a devastating link with Meyer's wartime past and the whole case is about to explode in the media.

The writing is spare and factual - coolly dissociated from the action and little is done to flesh out the characters and not much is revealed of a personal nature. I found it interesting in terms of the differences between an English or American trial and the German system. But the writing is somewhat bland and there is little emotion expended which leaves the whole thing totally dispassionate. Even learning the truth is somewhat thrown away and in this case I think much more could have been made of the facts.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 October 2013
85 year old Hans Meyer is killed in Room 500 of the Adlon Hotel (famed by Michael Jackson dangling his baby Blanket, that is to say his baby called Blanket, out of the window some years ago) by 67 year old Fabrizio Collini, shot and then stamped in the face. A brutal attack by any standards. Caspar Leinen is assigned to defend Collini, who admits the killing without any quibble. And so starts the legal process, but the stumbling block is the motive. Collini remains tight-lipped, he is not prepared to say what drove him to such a brutal murder. For Leinen there is more than just his first trial at stake, he has personal connections going right back to the Meyer family, which threaten to fudge the whole proceedings.

Essentially a novella, The Collini Case is a taut read, that comes to a resounding end. Mainly set in Berlin, it trawls back in time and describes little vignettes of life around the city and around Germany.

Much of the story revolves around a seemingly iniquitous Statute of Limitations. In January 2012 (it says at the end of the book), just a few months after the original publication of this novel in Germany, the Federal Minister of Justice appointed a committee to reappraise the situation. The book is clearly a vehicle for the author's ambition to reform the law, and at times the balance between storyline and the drive for change can feel a little skewed. A quick read, but in essence doesn't pack a punch.
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