All it takes is one brilliant idea. Nele Neuhaus had her lightbulb moment when she decided that Snow White Must Die. That novel won Neuhaus a new readership, became her first to be translated into English, and those who thoroughly enjoyed it couldn’t wait to pick up Big Bad Wolf. Include me in those numbers.
The big is missing from the German title, Böser Wolf, and from the literally translated American, Bad Wolf. So it’s an addition to the English title but it is an improvement. It has a better ring; it preserves the fairy tale connection, and it enhances the threat and menace. The big bad wolf is the stuff of nightmares and so are the contents of this book.
The starting point, Neuhaus revealed at her recent Bloody Scotland event, was a still unsolved case. The body of a young teenage girl was pulled out the River Main. Her corpse told a story of long term violent and sexual abuse. No one came to claim the body and she has yet to be identifed. How can such a thing happen? Big Bad Wolf is Neuhaus’s exploratory answer to that question.
It’s a long answer – a sprawling multi-stranded affair involving unscrupulous people doing unspeakable things to children. Thankfully not described in graphic detail, although Neuhaus does not flinch from describing the torture inflicted on the adults who suspect the existence of and begin to investigate the paedophile ring. That is sickening enough. She does, however, more subtly describe the effects of child sexual abuse in a domestic setting and the impact on both the victim and the unsuspecting parents.
The subject matter made this a difficult book to write, said Neuhaus, and I found it a difficult book to read for the same reason. Ultimately though, Neuhaus knows her trade, paces the novel well, and brings the many strands together in a fast-moving, if, at times, unfeasible climax. (I had the same issue with Snow White Must Die, though I must admit both novels would make excellent TV.)
Whether the ending is satisfactory, depends on acceptance of the deep chill in the final sentence ….