About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach Without Spoilers

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach translated by Anthea Bell - Casper Leinen has just graduated from law school in Germany. He has decided to make his legal career as a criminal defence lawyer. While his grades and work performances were good enough to gain Caspar positions in the judiciary or with large corporations or in big Chambers he chose criminal defence. His goal as a lawyer is “to put on a robe and defend his clients”.

As many young lawyers in many countries of the Western world do Caspar puts his name down on the list to take legal aid cases. In Canada and most other nations they are ill-paid and often thankless cases. It is not clear how much lawyers are paid to take legal aid cases in Germany. Accused in legal aid cases consistently have many problems in their lives beyond legal issues. There is often little a lawyer can do to gain an acquittal. The best you can do for your client is to get a fair punishment for the crime. Yet any young lawyer wanting to do criminal defence work takes legal aid cases. You gain vital court experience, learn how to deal with clients and get known within the legal justice system. I was there 39 years ago.

Caspar gets a Sunday morning call to take on a case but it is not the usual legal aid case. Fabrizio Collini has killed Hans Meyer, a prominent 85 year old German industrialist, in a Berlin hotel.

It has been a particularly brutal murder. He has executed Meyer with 4 shots to the back of the head. Collini has then obliterated Meyer’s face stomping him until the heel of his shoe breaks off. Collini then tells the staff of the death and sits quietly in the lobby until the police come and arrest him.

Police, prosecutors, the examining magistrate and Caspar instantly see revenge as the motive because of the manner of the murder but no one can be certain of the motive as Collini refuses to explain why he killed Meyer.

There is a startling personal twist that adds interest to the story but to discuss it or the reason for the murder would be to spoil the book. Still those issues are so compelling I will discuss them in my next post with warning.

The personal issues lead Caspar to think of withdrawing from the case. He gets sound advice from a senior defence counsel, Professor Richard Mettinger, who tells Caspar that his duty is to defend people. Whatever Caspar thinks of the crime and the personality of his client it is his responsibility to defend his client. I agree. Every young lawyer who undertakes criminal defence must accept their obligation is to provide the best defence for the accused no matter whether the client is of good or bad character and without regard to the circumstances of the crime. It is not an easy commitment but it is necessary for an effective legal system

Caspar’s friend, a baker, sums it in two sentences:

            “You’re a lawyer. You have to do what lawyers do.”

Unlike much legal fiction Caspar is not a super lawyer. He works hard. He honours his profession by doing the best job he can for his client.

More surprising the prosecution is concerned with finding out what happened and why then getting a conviction and life sentence.

It is an elegant book. It is too rare a modern mystery is written in under 200 pages. Von Schirach tackles a complex theme and addresses it well without needing 500 pages or more.

Caspar reminds me of myself as a young lawyer. I never handled a murder trial but I was in court often fighting for clients. Neither Caspar nor myself are flamboyant courtroom performers. Each of us strives to be well prepared.

The book will make you think about legal systems. It is a very good book deserving of the praise it has gained around the world.


  1. Bill - I'm so very glad to know you thought this book was such a good one. I find your perspective as a lawyer both interesting and helpful. Thanks too for your comments about legal aid cases. I'm sure they give a lawyer valuable experience and recognition, but they must be awfully difficult at times. I look forward to your follow-up post.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is a book that stays with you. People who do a lot of legal aid cases must work hard to focus on doing their job which is to defend an accused not try to solve a life's problems.

  2. I have this book on my shelf - a friend who had loved it sent it to me. So will just skim your posts till I have read it.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I anticipate you enjoying the book a lot.

  3. I liked this book a lot and have touted it all over the blogosphere and to friends. I keep trying to loan it out.

    I sympathized with Collini when I found out his motive and history. However, there is so much more to this book than the description of only one case of murder. It's tied in to much bigger historical events and even to current events.

    I agree with what you said in your review. This is also a book that has led to discussions of Germany's criminal justice system, but not any changes yet.

    This is a book that made me cry, thinking of Collini's history and that of his country. It's an important book. It also shows how different legal mysteries can be -- this is 180 degrees from a Grisham book, as there is no wit, barely any character development. But there we are with a murder and a confessed perpetrator.

    I look forward to the next post about this book. And if I were on the jury, I would have let Collini go or give him six months in jail tending a garden or doing community service.

  4. While I sympathize with Collini I cannot agree with vigilante justice. Too many bad events result when individuals exact revenge. No legal system is perfect but if we do not have Rule of Law life degenerates. A future post on the right book can further consider my thoughts. In my posts on The Goodbye Man by Chad Barton I have set out thoughts on the subject.

  5. Well, hmmm. You are a lawyer.

    But the law here has varying degrees of charges, and judges and juries
    take mitigating circumstances into account.

    Recently, there was a case where a man saw a driver hit and kill his two children, his only children. He drove into the perpetrator and killed him. He had a jury trial and the
    jury didn't send him to jail; they considered all the facts.

    I'm not a fan of vigilantism, and I certainly wouldn't call for it. As I have said since I heard a friend say this about the death penalty, "I'm against premeditated murder by anyone."
    I agree, but if it happens or it happens as a response to an outrage as the death of children and a parent snaps, a judge or jury considers that in deciding the person's fate.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Vigilantes are reckless and impulsive. Certainly courts should be allowed to consider circumstances in sentencing. I think it is awful how the U.S. and Canada have been instituting minimum jail terms for offences. Once again they are a reaction to a few high profile cases.