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Crime: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 11, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his fiction debut, a collection of 11 stories, German defense lawyer von Schirach displays a facility with contemporary noir in such tales as "Fähner," the depressing account of a troubled marriage that ends in violence, and "The Cello," which depicts the effect of a stifled upbringing on two siblings, but other selections will strike readers as sketchy or obscure. "Love," in which the defense attorney narrator represents a troubled student with a cannibalism fetish, reads more like a brief anecdote shared among professional colleagues than a story with a point. "The Thorn," in which a museum employee takes sadistic pleasure in planting thumbtacks to cause others pain, is equally enigmatic. Von Schirach's tendency to say less than is called for is also evident in his afterword, which confusingly delineates the differences between the American and German justice systems, then concludes that the differences don't matter. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Von Schirach is a defense attorney currently practicing in Berlin. In this collection, he presents accounts of 11 of the cases he has defended. They read with all the character development and suspense you would expect in short fiction. But the spike is that all these heartbreaking cases happened. A young woman takes care of her brother after an accident; he declines unbearably, and she poisons him and rocks him to eternal sleep in the bathtub. An Eastern European woman is sold as a sex worker in Germany; a man dies while with her, and the gruesome dismemberment that her boyfriend embarks on can be seen as an act of love. A husband endures a loveless marriage until he can endure no more. Over and over, von Schirach lets readers know the context-rich backstories behind these human tragedies. He tells his tales with none of the charm, wit, and courtroom action with which defense barrister John Mortimer imbued his fictional Rumpole stories. These are unrelievedly grim but always compassionate and fascinating. --Connie Fletcher

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Uncorrected Proof edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307594157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594150
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
THe author of this collection of short stories is a German lawyer who derives his inspiration from real cases. These stories run the gamut from gory to whimsical. Some cases involve gruesome murders. Others deal with insanity. In one particularly delightful story about a museum guard the tale revolves around a man's experiences guarding the same statue in the same room year after year. It is told in marvelous fashion.

In each story the nameless attorney character makes an appearance as legalities ensue. These stories reveal a writer who has found a way to merge humor, tragedy, violence, and absurdity with an economy of form that is quite stunning. I started reading the book one evening just to try it out since I had never heard of this author. I got into it and I simply could not put it down. I finally stopped with a couple of stories left to savor. I did not want this book to end. Truly fabulous stuff!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Assistant District Attorney Schmidt in one of the stories in Ferdinand von Schirach's novel,'Crime' made a statement that connects all of the stories of murder, mayhem and lust, "Follow the money or follow the sperm. Every murder comes down to one or the other."

Ferdinand von Schirach is a criminal defense lawyer in Berlin, Germany. He has defended the famous and infamous, and here he tells some of their stories. His uncle was a judge and a soldier in World War II. His grandfather was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. There is a history here, and the stories von Schirach tells all come from the heart and most involve guilt of some sort. There are eleven stories, all different and all are mesmerizing in their own right.

'Self Defense' may be my favorite story. A man at a train station defends himself from two criminals, the fact that he does not say a word at any time, to anyone, raises the level. The District Attorney and the Defense Attorney vie against each other, and the man continues to remain silent. How do you defend a man who does not speak, it can be done. 'The Thorn' may be the most unusual of stories, a museum guard patrols and guards the same room for some twenty odd years. He comes slightly unhinged, and his journey is one to behold. 'Tanata's Tea Bowl' may be one of the most gruesome crimes, but the story underneath is the reality. The other eight stories are as fascinating.

The characters are rich and full of life. Their stories are told by the author and narrator, but the words come from the characters. The road to their crime is told from their perspective, and the author fills in the voice of the law. Ferdinand von Schirach gives us a base of German law, and how it is practiced.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For a profession that spawned some of history's best prose stylists, such as Abe Lincoln and Wallace Stevens, the legal profession can't seem to handle the modern novel. Louis Auchincloss is always throwing Shakespearean quotes into his novel as if he is participating in a one sided debate, "RESOLVED, Louis Auchincloss is one well educated fellow." Meanwhile, Louis Begley's novels read as if they're submissions in a Louis Bromfield parody contest. And those two are the best prose writers with a law degree.

Friedrich von Schirach's prose style is the one exception to this failure. It is a "just the facts" approach: few adjectives, fewer adverbs, no similes, no metaphors. These stories sound like lawyers trading war stories at a bar meeting, after the business is over and the drinks are served, but not too long after they are served. The stories are relaxed but tightly structured. That is not to say that these are reruns of old Dragnet scripts. Von Schirach has extraordinary powers of observation which allows him to dispense with tricks of grammar. For instance, a judge is trying to reach a decision while reviewing a document. He takes off his glasses, hesitates, puts them back on and takes them off again. Who needs to get into the judge's head when a minor detail telegraphs his indecision so eloquently?

These stories are extraordinary. The Thorn, for instance, reads like a collaboration between Benjamin Franklin, Franz Kafka and Oliver Sacks. These stories are deceptively simple but each one provides a unique and complex perspective, all through the eyes of a lawyer of obvious talent and sensitivity.
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I don't usually read short story collections, but I'm glad that, based on a very favorable NYT review, I gave "Crime," by Ferdinand Von Schirach, a chance. I was initially attracted to the book by the fact that the author is a German criminal defense lawyer, and that I have recently read several translations of German novels, which were excellent. At only 188 pages, I thought I couldn't go wrong. I ended up wishing that Schirach had written more.

It is unclear whether these 11 stories of contemporary German crime, are fiction or non-fiction. I suspect that they are largely fiction, but, like much good fictional literature, most likely they have their roots in the author's experiences. Regardless, the stories are mesmerizing. While each tale is quite different, there is a common thread of guilt, and perhaps evil, which runs through them. Schirach's tone is conversational, and his power as a story teller derives from the simplicity and directness of his language, which avoids the usual hyperbole found in so much crime drama. Although each story can be picked up and read at any time, I suspect that many readers, like me, will finish this volume in one or two sittings.

This is not a book by a lawyer, written for lawyers. However, I gained a lot of knowledge about criminal law procedures, and about the philosophy of modern German legal practice, which have much to commend themselves to those of us who have been brought up on the English common law system and are unaware that there are other approaches to justice available.
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