Munich in the 1930s. Young women are being raped and brutally murdered. They are disappearing along the quiet country lanes outside the city, cycling to destinations they will never reach. A Party member by the name of Josef Kalteis is executed for the crimes, but is he really guilty? Could the murderer still be out there?
Whilst ICE COLD is the second book from German writer Andrea Maria Schenkel, it's the first book - THE MURDER FARM - that I have to start out mentioning. I still remember my reaction to that book - mesmerised, enthralled, vaguely stunned. Needless to say, trying not to set expectations for ICE COLD was a tricky undertaking.
Set in 1930's Munich, ICE COLD is the progression of a rapist serial killer. Various viewpoints are told chapter by chapter, each voice eerily intimate, and personal, distinguished by a change in font to give the reader a visual queue, as well as a clear change in voice. The killer moves aimlessly, passively through a life punctuated suddenly by extreme violence and depravity. ICE COLD tells a story that is brutal, hopeless, stark, bleak and extremely discomforting. It's dark, intense and extremely uncomfortable reading. It's also jarringly different in that there is no discernible plot, heading for a resolution or at the least, an explanation. This is a series of short, sharp punches to the readers sensibility, finalising in no resolution, no closure, no analysis, no neat ends and no explanations.
There are a lot of similarities to THE MURDER FARM, in the style, the structure and the tone of ICE COLD. But there's something much bleaker and more confrontational about ICE COLD. Just in case it sounds like this is a book that I hated, exactly the opposite is true. It's short, sharp, tight as hell, uncomfortable, strange, brutal, and extremely memorable.
ICE COLD - Andrea Maria Schenkel
Somehow the format that worked so well in "The Murder Farm" doesn't seem to have quite the same impact in ICE COLD. Whether it's because of the story of that the novelty of the unusual format isn't as fresh, I'm not sure.
Perhaps it was the blurb on the book jacket which asked the question, "but is he really guilty?" It is a question that maybe leads to false expections about the ending. I found myself none the wiser at the end of the book than I did when I first opened it. It could be more the fault of the publicists and powers that be who decide what goes on the blurbs, than the writer's. Whatever the reason I was left feeling quite unsatisifed by the ending of ICE COLD which wasn't present in "The Murder Farm".