On a sweltering day in August, a small town drunkenly celebrates its six-hundredth anniversary with a funfair when an anonymous tip leads police to find a young woman brutally beaten, raped, and thrown under the floorboards of the very stage on which her attackers had just played a polka. An eight-member brass band composed of respectable family men with respectable day jobs is charged with the crime. A neophyte defense lawyer, still wet behind the ears and breaking in his attaché case, takes on the trial, only to lose his innocence in the process.
So begins Guilt, Ferdinand von Schirach’s tense, riveting collection of stories based on real crimes he has known. In these brief, succinct tales, von Schirach calls into question the nature of guilt and the toll it takes—or fails to take—on ordinary people. In “The Illuminati,” the popular mean crowd at an all-boys’ boarding school wages a vicious attack against an outsider schoolmate, and ends up accidentally killing the boy’s beloved teacher. Attempting to hurdle through a midlife crisis, a housewife begins to steal trivial things no one will miss, an act that gives her a rush and staves off depression in “Desire.” And in “Snow,” an old man whose home is used as a way station for a heroin ring agrees to protect the identity of the lead drug runner, who receives his comeuppance in due course.
Compassionate and seen with the same cool, controlled eye that propelled Ferdinand von Schirach’s debut collection, Crime, onto best-seller lists, Guilt is a stunning follow-up from one of Germany’s finest new writers.
Ferdinand von Schirach was born in Munich in 1964. Since 1994, he has worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Berlin. Among his clients have been former Politburo member Günter Schabowski, the former East German spy Norbert Juretzko, and members of… More about Ferdinand von Schirach
“[Von Schirach is] an exceptional prose stylist . . . There’s a trick to many of his stories, one that works every time. A narrator describes a terrible crime in a controlled tone that withholds judgment and even verges on amusement. That tone is von Schirach’s great achievement: understated, resigned, worldly, hard-boiled.” —The New York Times Book Review
“These are compressed, matter-of-fact accounts which…often read like existential parables that probe the limits of the law in exploring the mysteries of the human heart and psyche . . . Though the narratives are often as terse as the best hard-boiled crime fiction, the most compelling tales have a philosophical dimension reminiscent of Kafka or Camus.” —Kirkus
“Von Schirach describes each case in a straightforward, unemotional manner that makes each story all the more searing. The emotional impact of these tales is powerful; no crime novelist could invent stories more unsettling . . . The question of guilt and innocence, how an individual’s case adjudicated in court, and the consequences of being involved—even tangentially—in a criminal act, will resonate.” —Library Journal