Like John Mortimer’s Rumpole, the unnamed lawyer in Crime & Guilt is a defender of the underdog. In this case, though, the underdog is always guilty, usually of a terrible crime and sometimes of a bizarre offence such as planting pins in shoes. Either way, the build-up to the crime is always described in calm, efficient prose from the perspective of the seasoned lawyer steeped in the quiddities of the legal system.
The book is a compendium of two volumes that were huge in von Schirach’s native Germany. A defence lawyer himself, the author draws on his experience to reveal the human story behind these fictional crimes and the deracinated individuals – abuse victims, long-suffering carers, the psychologically traumatised – who were sometimes driven to kill. Crime & Guilt is both terrifying and engaging as the unnamed lawyer details grisly crimes and considers the nature of justice in a legal system where a violent murder has to be explained and considered before punishment can be dispensed. It’s not your typical genre book, though the subtle suspense and keen psychological insight are coldly compelling: these crimes may be fictional yet von Shirach’s personal casebook has clearly informed his chilling prose.