With only a week to go to touchdown in Berlin, it’s time to start indulging in all things German. Let’s start with a real treat – some award-winning crime. The Krimi-Preis is the biggest award for German-language crime writing and Andrea Maria Schenkel is the only author to have won in two consecutive years. Both books have been published in English by Quercus and both are fictionalised versions of true stories.
As far as mysteries go, the 2007 winner, The Murder Farm, isn’t that tough a nut to crack. So no plot spoilers apart from saying that the crime concerns the massacre of a family of 5 and their house servant at a remote farm in Bavaria. The main interest lies in the narrative method. Schenkel mixes up straight 3rd-person narrative, witness statements and religious poems. The result is that the full picture gradually emerges as each piece slots into its allotted place in the jigsaw. A jigsaw that reveals the identity of the murderer, the dynamics in the murdered family and the social macrocosm of a defeated post-war Germany. It’s bleak and at 192 pages very much to the point.
Schenkel reuses and refines this technique in her 2008 winner, Ice Cold. The result is truly (no pun intended) chilling. Just look at that dustjacket. Set in 1930’s Nazi Munich, the opening section is a memo from the authorities denying that the serial murderer, Kalteis (Ice Cold), was ever a party member, because, as we now know, no good Nazi would ever commit such heinous crimes (!). The second section depicts the final hours of the man before he is guillotined. It takes just 17 seconds from him leaving his cell until he registers the swish of the blade. All this contained in the first 5 pages. The question is have the authorities got the right man?
The experience of Kathie, a young girl who leaves her rural home for the rapidly souring promise of city life, is interspersed between the serial murders for which Kalteis is executed. Has Kathie moved to the wrong place, at the wrong time? Will she end up as just another victim? Kathie’s story, besides adding tension, allows Schenkel to detail the social landscape of the working class in 1930’s Germany. It’s not pretty. And neither are those murders which are sordid and very disturbing. This is prose which gains power through its brevity and a novel that is most definitely not for the fainthearted.
The Murder Farm / Ice Cold
Berlin – 7 days and counting ……