Because the murderer makes no attempt to hide his crime, the mystery is the motive in this concise legal thriller.
Caspar Leinen is a new lawyer; smart, hardworking, burdened with a sense of justice, even righteousness, but not fool enough to think this will excuse him from having to make a living. His first case is a sensational murder. Fabrizio Collini has killed a man: He admits as much, and the evidence is all over him. When Leinen learns he has a personal connection to the victim, he attempts to back out, but an older colleague, the famous Richard Mattinger, dissuades him. Mattinger is the victim’s lawyer, the auxiliary counsel for the prosecution. It is not necessarily a matter of virtue that persuades Leinen to stay on the case. We know what will happen—the question is how: Evil is in the devil, the devil in the details. The pleasures of the book are its particulars: of the law and how it is practiced in Germany, the anecdotes that give agency and motive to the characters, fascinating tidbits about detonators, the description of an autopsy. This is the stock and trade of crime fiction. All the conventions—even a love interest—are present; a regular reader will check boxes off a list, and yet this book works magic. Von Schirach, prominent defense attorney in Germany, author of two highly regarded short story collections (Guilt, 2012, etc.), is renowned for his tone, the evenness with which he treats his facts, the unforced suspense that unnerves his readers.
It is the care von Schirach takes with history, with the return of the repressed, that makes this short book remarkable.