Last November I happened upon a collection of short stories that resonated with me and I found I couldn’t really stop thinking about. This collection was ‘Crime’ by Ferdinand von Schirach, all tales fictionalising some of the cases he has come across, and even defended, in his time as a solicitor. When his second collection ‘Guilt’ dropped through the letterbox I was thrilled, yet I did have trepidations as ‘Crime’ had rather unnerved me with how some people get away with truly terrible things, would it be the same in ‘Guilt’ or could it be even worse?
If you are of a squeamish disposition or someone who worries late at night about all the most unlikely scenarios that could happen to you the next day (we have all done this at some point haven’t we?) then I am not sure I would recommend the second collection of Ferdinand von Schirach stories, translated by Carol Brown Janeway. You see, like his previous collection ‘Crime’, Ferdinand tells us of the most unlikely, dark, horrific or traumatic things that can happen to people and how the perpetrators can get away with them.
In this collection we have children running cults, drug barons who are afraid of nothing and know no limits to revenge, a seemingly harmless old man who turns killer at a train station, a briefcase with horrifying contents and endless secrets. All incredibly tantalizing and weirdly fascinating. Two of the most disturbing tales, ‘Funfair’ (which is anything but fun) and ‘The Illuminati’ (which would make quite a horror film), will possibly never leave me. I think about them now and shudder before thinking a) how on earth did anyone get away with such things and b) how on earth did it not make the press?
Not knowing the British legal system (other than for Visa applications, getting a passport as I haven’t killed anyone… yet) I couldn’t really compare what goes on in the German system, but I did find myself thinking ‘oh that wouldn’t happen in the UK’. But would it, or does it already and we just never hear about it where we live, or only get to hear the odd horrific crime now and again, not every crime must be reported for whatever reason must it? This is where if you are someone who can worry about a piano falling on you on every street you turn (I used to think this and that a shark might suddenly appear in the local pool and eat me, I have sought help and am fine now, ha) you should maybe rethink reading it, but if you have a grim fascination with the most bizarre and terrible things people can do then you should give this a whirl.
I should say that not all of the stories are utterly horrific. Awful things might happen but Ferdinand has an interest in looking at why people did them, after all there are many accidental murders or ones commited in self defence, one such tale with a brilliant twist is ‘Comparison’, it is tales like that and ‘Anatomy’ which shocked me so suddenly I laughed, which make you really think how you would judge something if you knew all the facts.
Yet again Ferdinand von Schirach delivers a very intriguing and insightful, if occasionally difficult to read, collection with ‘Guilt’. I hope he keeps them coming to be honest, is that awful? I also wonder if he might ever give a full length novel a whirl, could there be a true life case that he could ‘fictionalise’ that could last for a few hundred pages and keep us held. Or could he come up with something dark and original using the uneasy and bizarre he sees in his day to day work? If you haven’t tried ‘Crime’ or ‘Guilt’ do give them a try, if you dare, I will definitely be reading whatever Ferdinand von Schirach produces next.