"The Hedgehog" by Ferdinand von Schirach, in Crime: Stories, Alfred A. Knopf.
Something very different this week. Von Schirach is a defense attorney in Germany and these stories are apparently based on true cases, to what degree one can't tell. The Library of Congress Cataloging in Print says "Fiction," and who am I to argue? Another odd thing is that all the stories begin with what seems to be a third-person omniscient narration, but at some point a first person speaker arrives, an anonymous defense attorney, whom I assume is supposed to be von Schirach.
The writing style is flat, deliberately plain (or so the translation makes it appear). But now, let's go on to "The Hedgehog."
Once upon a time there were several brothers, all of whom thought they were smart and strong. They all thought the youngest was a fool and a good-for-nothing. But when an emergency occurred it turned out that the despised youngest brother was the cleverest of them all...
Does that sound familiar? It should; it is the plot of countless fairy tales. Von Schirach gives us a modern take in the story of Karim Abu Fataris. He is the youngest of nine brothers from Lebanon, part of an extended family of criminals.
When Karim started school, the teachers groaned -- "Yet another Abu Fataris" -- and then treated him like an idiot. He was made to sit in the back row, and his first-grade teacher told him, at age six, that he wasn't to draw attention to himself, get into fights, or talk at all.
Karim is no idiot but he is willing to let the world, brothers included, think so. By age ten he is deliberately get C- grades while teaching himself calculus with a stolen textbook. By the time he leaves school he has an apartment of his own, a girlfriend, and an illegal business, all of them unknown to his family.
But when his favorite brother goes on trial for robbery Karim pits himself against the German legal system. Who wins? Well, it can be a great advantage to be underestimated by your enemy...
By the way, "Self-Defense," in this same book, came in a close second this week.