THE MURDER FARM - Andrea Maria Schenkel
THE MURDER FARM was one of the books that I purposely read as I was seeing the author at a Melbourne Writers Festival session. I actually picked it up to take on the train in with me - a journey of just on an hour in total. I can't remember the last time I was tempted to stay on the train and keep reading because a book was so good, but this book definitely tempted me to do so.
Based on true events, but with a different timeframe and a resolution (the true crime remains unsolved), THE MURDER FARM covers the brutal killing of an entire family. The family live on a small farm, on the outskirts of a small farming community, the place is quiet and enclosed and vaguely claustrophobic. The family themselves are also quiet, enclosed and vaguely claustrophobic - they are outsiders from the rest of the community. The father - Old Danner is a nasty piece of work, his wife devoutly religious and very standoffish, his daughter has a bit of a reputation. There are lots of rumours about the parentage of her son - as her husband ran off years ago.
The style of the book is unusual and it works unbelievably well. The story of the killings is slowly intertwined with "witness statements" - testimony of neighbours, workers and people in and around the area in the time leading up to the discovery of the bodies. The killer's own story is told - partly as his own testimony, partly in prayer. Time and time again, the style of the book has the author taking the reader almost to the edge - almost to the point where you can see who the killer is, and time and time again you're whipped back. Time and time again I thought I knew, but I wasn't quite sure. Ultimately, it is one of those books that has such a fabulously creepy, scarey, sobering, disquieting affect on the reader. It's voyeuristic. It's distressing that you're so close to these people. It's odd that you know that the killer must be from that quiet, claustrophobic little community - is probably one of the witnesses whose words you are reading.
When Andrea signed my copy of the book, she asked me where I was up to - I wasn't quite at the point where I knew for sure who the killer was. Her inscription was "I hope you like the killer, too." I did. I liked how the killer was revealed, and, for some strange reason in a book that absolutely enthralled, that was potentially disturbing and actually quite brutal, I liked the person as well.
In a German village in the aftermath of the Second World War, Old Man Danner, his wife, their daughter, her two children and their new maid all lie dead. They have been brutally murdered with a pickaxe at their remote home, now known as 'The Murder Farm'.