On a sweltering day in August, a small town drunkenly celebrates its six-hundredth anniversary with a funfair when an anonymous tip leads police to find a young woman brutally beaten, raped, and thrown under the floorboards of the very stage on which her attackers had just played a polka. An eight-member brass band composed of respectable family men with respectable day jobs is charged with the crime. A neophyte defense lawyer, still wet behind the ears and breaking in his attaché case, takes on the trial, only to lose his innocence in the process.
So begins Guilt, Ferdinand von Schirach’s tense, riveting collection of stories based on real crimes he has known. In these brief, succinct tales, von Schirach calls into question the nature of guilt and the toll it takes—or fails to take—on ordinary people. In “The Illuminati,” the popular mean crowd at an all-boys’ boarding school wages a vicious attack against an outsider schoolmate, and ends up accidentally killing the boy’s beloved teacher. Attempting to hurdle through a midlife crisis, a housewife begins to steal trivial things no one will miss, an act that gives her a rush and staves off depression in “Desire.” And in “Snow,” an old man whose home is used as a way station for a heroin ring agrees to protect the identity of the lead drug runner, who receives his comeuppance in due course.
Compassionate and seen with the same cool, controlled eye that propelled Ferdinand von Schirach’s debut collection, Crime, onto best-seller lists, Guilt is a stunning follow-up from one of Germany’s finest new writers.