MUNICH in the Thirties is a dangerous place for a young woman, particularly for those who cycle the secluded country lanes on the outskirts of the city.
A savage attacker is at work, killing his victims after raping them.
The city breathes a sigh of relief when the murderer is caught – a member of the Nazi party.
The man, Josef Kaltei, is swiftly and expediently executed but was he in fact guilty? Or is the real killer still on the loose?
Kathie, young and pretty, takes the train to Munich in search of work but her pipe dreams of success are quickly torpedoed as she sinks into a variety of emotionless sexual encounters and casual prostitution.
Kathie struggles to nourish her naive plans for happiness but there is another cloud on the horizon apart from her dispiriting lifestyle: dark-haired and attractive, she conforms to the profile of the murderer’s prey and it isn’t long before she is in mortal danger.
Andrea Maria Schenkel’s first book, The Murder Farm, marked her out as something very different from most female writers of crime fiction, even those prepared to venture into the more unsettling outer reaches of psychopathology.
That first novel drew admiring comparisons to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as Schenkel tackled in similar fashion the murder of a farmer and his wife in a secluded farm; the use of a dispassionate, documentary-style assemblage of facts had a chilling cumulative effect.
This book is more engaging, placing the vulnerable Kathie at the centre of the narrative and involving us in her half-baked romantic dreams and irritating us with her fecklessness but that’s only part of Schenkel’s strategy.
The pursuit of a serial killer in the Weimar Republic is conveyed through the distancing device of documents, flashbacks and even different fonts but this hardly prepares us for the graphic horror of much of the narrative.
From the propaganda of the Nazi politicians through the desperate lives of ordinary Munich citizens to the troubles of the sexually abused heroine, Schenkel marshals her material to fashion a novel that for all its brevity conveys an ambitious scale.
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