Crime, a collection of short stories by German criminal defense lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, is a crystalline compendium of crime, laying out in wholly readable prose the whys and wherefores of robbery, assault, and murder. Von Schirach renders the motivation comprehensible while leaving the crimes mostly reprehensible. He is not offering excuses; he is offering explanations, and by putting a human face on crime, von Schirach forces us to see ourselves and what we might do if our luck turned, or if we’d never had any to start with.
Crime is not a book for those seeking gruesome details or spine-chilling suspense. The narrator of the stories — a nameless defense attorney brought in to advise — is omniscient in observations but reticent in titillation: the crimes are presented only peripherally in terms of actual physical detail, leaving at center stage the internal workings of desire, logic, guilt, and absolution. We learn what humans are capable of, whether due to past abuse, lost dreams, bad luck, mental illness, or simple desperation, and we understand. There are some happy endings to the cases represented and some sad outcomes but what all the stories share is sensitivity to the subject, acuity in observation and reporting, and satisfaction in conclusion. Von Schirach is an original voice, a new speaker for the law-breakers, and a wise witness to the potential within all of us to commit an act of criminality.
Crime was translated from German by Carol Janeway.
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