Ferdinand Von Schirach’s The Collini Case aspires to be a John Grisham-y-type legal thriller. Note my use of aspires. The novel is certainly a fast-paced drama, but it is missing the level of suspense that would make it a truly entertaining read.
Caspar Leinen is a young defense attorney who has just landed his first murder trial. The defendant, Fabrizio Collini, has brutally murdered a respected German industrialist. Collini openly admits to the murder in spite of having no history of violence and no evident motive. Leinen sets out to prepare a winning defense, and while he initially seeks to boost his career, he predictably becomes personally invested in his client and the quest for justice. What Lienen uncovers raises questions regarding both morality and legality, yet it is presented in such an awkwardly-paced fashion that readers cannot help but be terribly underwhelmed.
All of the big reveals are not built-up in any way; instead, Von Schirach simply states the surprising information as standard fare, resulting in the destruction of what could have been a fascinating novel. Since Von Schirach himself doesn’t seem too impressed with his plot twists, how can he expect his readers to be enthused? By the time I realized that I had just read a significant detail, Von Shirach had already moved on to some other lackluster revelation.
Other details are treated as important, but end up being of absolutely no significance whatsoever. For instance, the prosecuting attorney only has one arm: “In the last days of the war, when he was eight years old, a hand grenade had torn off his left forearm” (34). This information is mentioned as if it will be of some grave importance later in the novel, but it is never mentioned again. This is one of the main issues with The Collini Case. Details that are vital to the plot are glossed over, and instead we spend the entirety of the novel waiting for Mattinger’s missing arm to come back into play.
Much of the novel reads like the standard courtroom drama. Leinen is young and idealistic enough to still believe in the system. He still has too much of a conscience to accept a bribe; he is initially after the win, but he grows to sympathize with Collini. As the Collini character is never fully developed, Leinen’s affection for the man tends to feel more forced on the author’s part, and this strain is palpable for readers as well.
The Collini Case moves quickly and it isn’t awful, it just isn’t good, either. The complete lack of suspense really ruined a novel that had quite a bit of potential. Moreover, I still don’t know why that guy’s missing arm was even mentioned.
Thanks to Penguin Books for the advanced copy of The Collini Case.