The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

collini caseI’m glad I read The Collini Case a significant amount of time after reading lots of reviews of it and the media coverage related to it: first of all, it’s a very short book, and most reviews give away quite a few significant details about the plot, which this piece will as well. Second of all, it’s definitely a book that makes for interesting discussion because it helped lead to discussions in the German government about reexamining the Ministry of Justice.

I usually shy away from legal procedurals because it’s hard to ignore dramatic license with American criminal procedure, but I have less of a problem when I’m reading about another country’s legal process. Caspar Leiner takes his first murder case just 42 days after he was admitted to the bar, and this book covers the length of his representation of the retired Collini who doesn’t deny murdering industrialist Meyer.

The book has a few sections taking place in Casper’s past and Collini’s past, which lead to the motive for the killing, but the main thrust of the book is the horror of the law that allowed Meyer to avoid prosecution for war crimes. The actual story was fine but not fantastic, but the ramifications of the case were the strongest parts of the book, if that makes any sense. What the book achieved outside the story is what’s more important to me, and I think that can be a valid reason to decide to read a book.

This book has sparked lots of discussion, and the following posts include lots of interesting comments and other articles to read: Mrs. Peabody Investigates, The Game’s Afoot, and Reactions to Reading.

12 thoughts on “The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

  1. Rebecca – I couldn’t agree more about the real importance of this book. I was impressed with the legal aspects of it because of what I learned. But like you, I’ve been a lot more impressed with that it’s meant in real life.

    • It definitely doesn’t happen often, does it? I didn’t have high expectations of the story itself, but it was actually pretty well written unlike lots of “important” books.

  2. I haven’t read much about this book, but I think I will want to read it. Based on your review, which I only skimmed, I will not check out other useful reviews that you pointed to until I have read the book. I will also be waiting until a paperback edition is available at a lower price.

  3. I liked this book for the reasons you outline. It was the importance of the absurd laws in Germany, stemming from WWII. I don’t know that the publication of the book led to actual changes in the law there. I think it led to discussions of these laws among those who deal with criminal justice.
    There was discussion of the book at Katherina Hall’s blog, “Mrs. Peabody Investigates,” and I think she said that no actual changes had occurred, and that she would find out what happened at some point. She is the crime fiction blogosphere’s primary expert on German crime fiction, and had a lively conversation going on her blog about this book, and what actual results came about from it.

    • Sorry: I think I misread the end notes in the book and the blog comments on the several reviews I read before I wrote mine: I thought the law had changed instead of a commission being appointed to review the ministry of justice. I’ll edit my post.

  4. I’ll write a gentle reminder on Mrs. P.’s blog asking her about the laws in Germany, and see if she found out anything.
    i thought as you did that the law was changed.

  5. Mrs. Peabody (Katharina Hall) responded about the legal issues raised in The Collini Case, and any possible changes in the laws this way:
    “I’ve had a chance to look into this now, and so far, haven’t found anything that indicates a current-day change in the law. I know that the novel was mentioned by a minister when setting up a Ministry of Justice commission tasked with looking at various aspects of the Nazi past and its legacy, especially from a legal point of view ( One focus is the 1968 ‘Dreyer Law’, which the novel criticises because it quietly altered the statute of limitations for war criminals. That meant that former Nazis could no longer as easily be prosecuted. Schirach talks about the law in interview in Die Zeit here: . Will keep an eye out for any further developments.” .

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