THE MURDER FARM


One of my latest obsessions has been European genre novels, probably because there has been a recent influx of these books translated to English and published here in the U.S. Dozens of new-to-me books and authors are appearing on American bookshelves for the first time and I sheepishly admit I'm rather like a child in a candy store as I peruse the selection with a glazed look of unadulterated joy.

Andrea Maria Schenkel's novel, The Murder Farm - originally published in Germany in 2006 where it sold over 120,000 copies and is now being published in the U.S. by Quercus - was an obvious choice. Recipient of Germany's "Best National Crime Thriller Award" (2007) and Sweden's Martin-Beck Award for Best Detective Story translated into Swedish (2007), The Murder Farm is a fictionalized account of a real-life multiple murder of a family that took place on a rural farm in Austria in 1922. Schenkel uproots this horrifying crime from post-World War I Austria and places it instead in 1950's Bavaria in the bleak years following World War II. 

Through austere multiple narratives the victims of the crime - the Danner family and their young housemaid - are discussed by those who lived in the small, economically depressed rural area. Community gossip about the reclusive Danner family increases with each interview-style chapter and it becomes apparent that the victims had plenty of reasons to stay hidden behind closed doors. Spousal abuse, illegitimate children, and even rumors of incest filter through the community.

Schenkel ascribes to the less-is-more theory throughout the short novel (208 pages) and it is quite effective. Sparse descriptions left purely to the characters themselves lend an unreliable tone to the narrative from start to finish. The similarities to Truman Capote's classic work In Cold Blood cannot be denied in terms of the fictionalized true crime genre and the rural setting, but here the two novels sharply diverge. Schenkle spends less effort on character motivation than Capote, seemingly content to accept that some evil cannot be explained. While she does ultimately provide resolution to the murders, she doesn't wrap it up neatly with a moral lesson and a ribbon.

Anthea Bell translated this novel from the German. Without reading the original German version it is difficult to comment on the quality of the translation with authority, but it has been my own experience that when a translated novel's original honors and commendations make the leap with the translation, it's a good bet that the translation is a good one. It's when a foreign book laden with awards reads like a second-rate, self-published, half-hearted, $.99 effort on Kindle that you start to suspect a bad translation (but more on that in a later post).

Overall, The Murder Farm is an excellent work of German genre fiction and well worth the read. If you've ever had the inclination to venture beyond American, Canadian, or British authors I'd recommend it. I'm pleased Quercus is making these translations available in the U.S. after the veritable avalanche of Scandinavian police procedurals over the past decade. Yes, other European countries produce very fine fiction, too. Sometimes we just need a reminder.

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Title: The Murder Farm
Author: Andrea Maria Schlenkel
Publisher: Quercus
Date: June 3, 2014
Pages: 203
Source: Publisher Copy


17 comments:

  1. Before you even said it, I was thinking of In Cold Blood, which still to this day is THE SCARIEST BOOK I EVER READ so no I will not be reading this ESPECIALLY because it is based on a real life story. I only like fake dystopia and fantasy scary things. Real life, no way!

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    1. Sigh. Okay, I will remember that. Fake things only for you. Except for history, which you excel in. And history is about the scariest crap I can imagine.

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  2. I loved In Cold Blood! I need to make an effort to read more translated books.

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    1. Did you really? I don't know why this surprises me, but it does! I'm learning with translated books that once you find a very good translator, stick to them and worry less about the author. A bad translator ruins everything.

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  3. I love this stuff. And although Jill mentioned Cold Blood and how it freaked her out, I loved it. I would totally be that person observing blood spatter. No doubt.

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    1. She wrote this in interview-like format, which I loved, loved, loved. Every chapter was a different person from the town. It was like reading through the police interview file. Awesome.

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  4. *In" Cold Blood. I type too fast for my own good. I read blood and got too excited.

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    1. You're a sick puppy, my friend. I love that.

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  5. I will definitely be reading this one. I love translated genre works. Have you read Swedish author, Kristin Ekman? Her book, Black Water, was amazing.

    Great review!

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    1. I haven't, but thank you for contributing to my obsession (off to place some Amazon orders for Kristin Ekman, thank you!)....

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  6. This one is only available in ebook right now, correct? I loved In Cold Blood but remember having trouble sleeping for a while.

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  9. I agree that newly released murder mysteries in the States is good news. I enjoyed this one. It is short but potent. A horrible crime told with the predisposed opinions of the neighbors and towns folks. Eerily creepy. Good stuff.

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Fire away!