German author Ferdinand Von Schirach combines his own experience of the legal profession, with his family's shady Nazi past in his new novel The Collini Case. His fictional lawyer, Caspar Leinen, is young, newly qualified, and somewhat unwilling to take on the defence case for a man who admits to a brutal murder of an elderly industrialist in a Berlin luxury hotel bedroom. He is pitted against a distinguished old silver fox of a prosecuting council - Professor Richard Mattinger.
Another complicating factor is that his now dead friend's sister Johanna is adamant that he should not defend the accused, Fabrizio Collini, as the murder victim is her grandfather. A native Italian, Collini has lived a rather uneventful life since coming to Germany in the 1950s, working in the Mercedes factory and living in the same apartment block since then.
Leinen's task is made all the more difficult as Collini will not disclose his motive for the crime to him before the trial begins. And an added complication is that he and Johanna are a lot more to each other than just old friends.
This novel is fast paced and gripping, with the shameful history of Germany's Nazi past bringing up many ghosts. It reads well in translation, with great characterisation, and gives a fascinating window on how a country deals with a past it would be easier to forget. Except of course that the past is never really buried. Excellent stuff - a great short one sitting crime read. And credit to Von Schirach, who is not afraid of laying bare his own grandfather's history in the Nazi Youth in this very public way.