Schenkel, Andrea Maria - 'The Murder Farm' (translated by Anthea Bell)
This rather disturbing little book is based on a true story and already a bestseller in Germany. Its main narrative is cleverly interspersed with interviews from witnesses to the horrific slaughter at Danner's farm in Tannod. Several desperately pleading prayers, that beg for help but remain unanswered, are also squeezed in for good measure. All three parts are presented in a different typesetting and this works not only to distinguish between them but also somehow adds to the blackness of the story telling.
The narrative chapters relate the events as they happen. We are kept guessing as to the identity of the man being described but eventually assume it is Mick, an old thief that the Danners hired to help them out on the farm for a brief period one summer. He has returned to rob them of the great sums of money that he knows are stored in their home. He arrives at the farmhouse and decides to hide himself away for several days before carrying out his plan.
The interview sections in the book are conducted by a nameless visitor who returns to Tannod after living there for one summer during the war. After reading about what happened in a newspaper, s/he wants to interview the superstitious, xenophobic, god-fearing locals and try to find out what really happened. The locals are only too willing to talk with their visitor as s/he is familiar with the place but doesn't live there and will go away again soon. They also want their own versions of the shocking story made known.
The Danners are not well-liked and tend to keep themselves isolated on their farm. Rumours about them run rife amongst the locals - stories full of rape, incest, suicide, brutality and deception. The truth, however, is far more horrific than the locals think and no-one but the priest is close to guessing what really happened, or why. Maybe most disturbing of all is the fact that you as the reader are left guessing and have to tie up all the loose ends yourself. You do find out, in the end, who the actual killer was but the raw truth is too awful to contemplate. Is the killer even really aware of the whole truth himself? Is that why he kills everyone in a blind rage? Alas, you are not told and left to work it out alone.
This book, albeit it well constructed and superbly written, is really not at all pleasant reading. At the same time as being repulsed, you are drawn to finish it and find out what happens. Thank goodness I managed it in a single sitting. This sinister tale will remain with me for far longer than it should.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland