Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Murder Farm, by Andrea Maria Schenkel

181 pp.
Translated from German by Anthea Bell

The Murder Farm begins with a few introductory words from an unnamed narrator:
I spent the first summer after the end of the war with distant relations in the country.
During those weeks, that village seemed to me an island of peace.  One of the last places to have survived intact after the great storm that we had just weathered.
 Years later, when life had gone back to normal and that summer was only a happy memory, I read about the same village in the paper.
 My village had become the home of 'the murder farm' and I couldn't get the story out of my mind.
And the narrator is correct: you won't get the story out of your mind any time soon. The Murder Farm  is one of those novels that once you begin reading you shouldn't plan to do anything else until it's over.

The book is set in the 1950s, after the end of World War II in Germany and the American occupation.  The central focus of the novel is the Danner family, who live on their isolated farm in the woods.When they are not seen for a few days, a few of the villagers go to the farm to check things out and find the entire family dead -- someone has taken a pickaxe and killed the entire family -- Mr. and Mrs. Danner, their daughter Barbara, her two small children, and a young maid who has just begun to work at the farm. Throughout this dark and gloomy book, the unnamed narrator mentioned above gathers the stories of the people who live and work in the village, and through their narratives  it becomes quite apparent that the family was not popular and not very well-liked. But there are some things that not even the narrator is privy to -- interspersed with the testimonies of the villagers are other third-party narratives which leave you to wonder a) how much you're reading is simply gossip and how much is the truth, and b) who might have wanted this entire family dead.

It is truly difficult to believe that this is Schenckel's first book.  The bleak tone of the novel is set at the beginning and although the prose is sparse, it only accentuates the air of gloom that follows through the entire novel. The Murder Farm offers a psychological portrait of a family living in isolation as well as a brief glimpse at how the war affected the people in the village. But what it offers most is a crime which is at once both  realistic and believable, making it all the more creepy the further you go into the story.

Very atmospheric and bleak, The Murder Farm is a very good read, one I would recommend without hesitation to any reader of crime fiction.  It will keep you turning pages until the very end.

Fiction from Germany


  1. You know, just about every time I read one of your reviews, my wish list gets bigger. The setting of this sounds intriguing enough on it's own and then you throw in the interpersonal relationships and mass murder...I am hooked.

  2. Hah! And there are a few I haven't reviewed that you'd really like as well.

    Lost City Radio, by Daniel Alarcon is a must read.

  3. Ooooh! This sounds very exciting. My cup of tea! Thanks for the review! *adds to TBR*

  4. Actually, it's rather subdued but I think that makes the atmosphere even creepier. I just bought her "Ice Cold," so stay tuned.

  5. Betty: I'll be reading her second one soon, so stay tuned.


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