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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Murder Farm

Andrea Maria Schenkel

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To purchase The Murder Farm

Title: The Murder Farm
Author: Andrea Maria Schenkel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 125 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Murder Farm - US
The Murder Farm - UK
The Murder Farm - Canada
La Ferme du crime - France
Tannöd - Deutschland
  • German title: Tannöd
  • Translated by Anthea Bell

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Our Assessment:

B : unsettling, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 6/8/2008 Andrew Taylor
The Telegraph . 12/7/2008 Jake Kerridge
The Times . 23/5/2008 Peter Millar
TLS . 30/5/2008 Natasha Cooper
Die Zeit . 2/3/2006 Tobias Gohlis

  From the Reviews:
  • "This short but impressive novel is a dark and powerful fable whose ending leaves unresolved the ultimate question of why people sometimes run amok and kill each other." - Andrew Taylor, The Spectator

  • "Andrea Maria Schenkel spins a clever whodunit out of her raw material, but the novel is not really meant as entertainment: it is an almost clinical demonstration of the way in which societies afraid of facing the truth can allow evil to flourish." - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "Both atmosphere and the roundabout manner of the telling, spiralling in from an almost documentary approach to the psychological and the hidden, almost chillingly mundane horror make this a curiously original literary European equivalent of The Blair Witch Project." - Peter Millar, The Times

  • "The translation by Anthea Bell, is smooth enough to be unobtrusive. She and Schenkel make the voices of the various narrators convincingly different from each other, both in character and mood, and the heavy biblical tone of much of the text is suitable both to the eventual solution and to the atmosphere within the small, lonely community at the time the killings happened. That all this has been packed into such a short novel is a considerable achievement." - Natasha Cooper, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Selten ist lakonischer auf die Einsicht hingeschrieben worden, dass es "keinen Gott gibt auf dieser Welt", als in diesem kleinen, großartigen Krimidebüt." - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Murder Farm is a very short novel about a horrendous crime, the story allowed to unfold in short chapters which each present a (sometimes overlapping) sliver of background. The book is set in a small German community in the 1950s. The Danners have an out-of-the-way farm, and it is there that the whole family is slaughtered: the father and mother, daughter, two young grandchildren, and a maidservant.
       It's not immediately clear what happened. The accounts read like monlogues, responses to an unseen (and unheard) questioner -- a journalist, perhaps, or a criminal investigator. Many deal only peripherally with what happened, as the townfolk describe their relationships with the Danners -- when they last saw one or the other of the family members, how they felt about them, the gossip about the family. The first account, for example, is that of an eight-year-old school friend of one of the murdered grandchildren.
       Slowly both the story of the Danners and then of their murders gets pieced together. The old man was an unpleasant sort, tyrannizing his wife, apparently sleeping with his daughter. There were valuables in the house, as the stingy Danner couldn't resist bragging of his wealth (and the fact that he didn't keep his money in a bank). Nobody really liked them, except for the two young children, but the family kept to itself and lived in some isolation. The maid was new to the job, just hired.
       Aside from the accounts of the townspeople, there are also short chapters putting the reader into the heads of other characters, including one that is clearly the murderer.
       There are suggestions of motives before the crime is even fully understood, and old man Danner's unpleasantness certainly left him with enough people who didn't mind seeing him dead. But the story is mainly in the telling, in the way Schenkel reveals the details, both of the crime and of the lives of those who were murdered -- revealing a community in which many choose to look away from smaller and larger outrages, but also stick together.
       What actually happened is hardly banal, but also not particularly shocking. Given the resolution, Schenkel uses perhaps one trick too many in nudging readers towards a wrong path (of whodunit) and then tossing aside that track. But it's the way the story comes together, the way the horrors are allowed to unfold (and the murder is far from the only horror here), that makes the book.
       The Murder Farm is a picture of a certain type of post-war German life, the shadow of the war (and the roles of some of the inhabitants during the war years) still hanging over the community, as well as community portrait, showing, once it's been described from enough vantage points, all its ugly cracks (yet also how it holds together). The murder smashes the norms, and yet it hardly seems that far-fetched; in a way it seems a wonder that more people didn't snap much sooner .....
       A modest success, fairly well presented.

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The Murder Farm: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Andrea Maria Schenkel was born in 1962.

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