This slim novel packs a mighty punch which is going to linger in this reader’s mind with some powerful issues covered under the guise of a murder mystery.
The story is told eighteen years after the death of Afra and her young son in a small German village when a stranger turns up in a tavern, drunk he has an old cutting from a newspaper about the crime provoking memories of what happened on that day when the storm clouds rolled in on the washing hanging in the cottager’s yard.
Afra had returned to her catholic parent’s home in post-war Germany years after she left as a 14 year old girl, she had no choice, her employer’s had thrown her out for having relations with a Frenchman and so with she returns to a house which slowly fills with anger. When her pregnancy becomes apparent her father, Johann, is resentful of the shame she has bought on him and his wife Theres and suspects both his daughter and his wife of hiding things from him as his dementia takes hold. When the police are called, Johann confesses and the case is closed.
So what is the book about? Where is the mystery? The story is told by recreating the day of the murder from different viewpoints, including Afra’s to build layer upon layer until the whole picture is clear. These multiple narratives range from Police Officers who visited the scene of crime remembering the events of years before, to Afra’s unwanted suitor, to the itinerant salesmen who passed through the village and the shame that Afra’s parents felt about their illegitimate grandson Albert and the ever pressing need for money to cover the cost of two extra mouths to feed. As the day is reconstructed piece by piece despite the evidence being provided as fact with no excitable emotions or race to find the killer that our crime fiction is usually full of, this incredibly powerful novel that made this reader think about the crime committed in terms of the lives it affected and sheer pointlessness far more than those action-packed thrillers ever do.
This is a nuanced and dark tale, based upon a real story in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s native Germany. If the names hadn’t been foreign I would have forgotten that this wasn’t originally written in English so seamless was Andrea Bell’s translation. It is unsurprising given the depth of this novel that Shenkel has won critical acclaim of a literary nature in Germany for this book. I’m pleased to hear that this is her fourth novel and I will be seeking out her earlier work to see if that packs as mighty a punch as this one does.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Quercus for allowing me to have a copy of this book to read in return for this honest review and to Liz Loves Books whose interview with the author led me to seek this fantastic read out.