Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel

Published: Quercus, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84724-366-9

First line: I spent the first summer after the end of the war with distant relations in the country.

On a remote farm in Germany, the Danner family and their maid are found brutally murdered with a pickaxe. Old man Danner was a cruel and overbearing man who ruled his family with an iron fist. His wife, a deeply religious woman, was cowed by his brutality. Their daughter Barbara, also a victim of his abuse, had a daughter from a brief marriage. Several years later she gave birth to a son and although she never revealed her son’s paternity, a neighbouring farmer has always claimed he was the father.

The story of what happened on the farm is interspersed with transcripts of interviews with the local villagers and neighbours of the victims, as well as prayers. This might sound a little odd, but the effect is quite stunning and it creates a hauntingly atmospheric book. The narrative is told from numerous points of view including the victims and the murderer. The interviews give us different perspectives on the Danner family and the other people in their sphere. The prayers are a poignant full stop to events in the story.

The Murder Farm is set in the early 1950s, but based on a true unsolved crime from the 1930s. Schenkel has woven a compelling story around the events, and produced a brilliantly plausible solution. The clever thing that she has done is to write it in such a way that the reader is the only one who discovers the solution.

The writing is beautifully spare, and although The Murder Farm is only 181 pages, it says almost as much between the lines as it does on the page. It is an enthralling story, and one you will want to read in one sitting.

Andrea Maria Schenkel lives in Germany, and THE MURDER FARM is her first novel. It won first place in the German Crime Prize as well as the Friedrich-Glauser Prize.

Andrea Schenkel appeared on a panel with Adrian McKinty and Michael Robotham at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year. I picked this book up after the session and had it signed, which Andrea did with a fountain pen - and that’s something you don’t see much these days! I watched Karen devour this book while travelling on the train to and from MWF that day. She kept looking up at regular intervals to say 'you're going to love this'. And, well, what can I say - she knows me, or at least my reading tastes, too well. happy smiley

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