THE MURDER FARM by Andrea Maria Schenkel is a chilling look
at how a brutal murder exposes the flaws of the residents in
a small village.
The Danner family isn't liked. They're odd, stand-offish,
and unpleasant. There are rumors that Barbara Danner's
children are her father's. Everyone has an opinion, and when
the entire Danner family is found brutally murdered,
everyone is willing to share it with whoever comes asking.
THE MURDER FARM defies genre-labeling. Stark and chilling,
the story is cobbled together from first-person accounts, as
the townspeople share their part in this little mystery with
a nameless narrator, and a third-person narrative from the
perspective of the murdered family and the murderer. THE
MURDER FARM creates a foreboding atmosphere as the events
unfold through the recollections of the townspeople. These
interview-type narratives show glimpses of the righteous
relief of the townspeople. The Danner's are constantly
depicted as other. They weren't really members of this
community. They existed on the outskirts, both in physical
location as well as emotional closeness. Their deaths are
rationalized and tucked away into a neat, tidy, explainable
event that happened to people outside the village identity,
making the village safe again but also protecting and
excusing the village's role in these events.
While I wasn't surprised by the revelation of the murderer,
I am conflicted about the motivations and explanation for
the crime. I don't want to give away the plot, but the
reveal is thought-provoking. Author Andrea Maria Schenkel
leaves just enough room for the reader to doubt and question
the killer's confession. Is the killer telling the truth
about what happened, or is there a darker motivation that is
unspeakable? I personally have my doubts about the killer's
At 168 pages, THE MURDER FARM isn't a short-story, but
neither can I call it a novella. It is a novel of great
scope and depth packed into a sparse but effective 168
pages. Chilling, stark, and harsh, THE MURDER FARM is
unsettling in how it depicts the brutal murders of an entire
family but also in how a community tries desperately to
shift blame and find answers for this tragic crime.
Questions with no answers will haunt you long after you
finish this novel. Exceptional, painfully chilling, and
sinister, THE MURDER FARM will disturb your view of the
world and make you question your actions and motivations.
The Times Literary Supplement said of The Murder
Farm, “With only a limited number of ways in which
violent death can be investigated, crime writers have to use
considerable ingenuity to bring anything fresh to the genre.
Andrea Maria Schenkel has done it in her first novel.”
The first author to achieve a consecutive win of the German
Crime Prize, Schenkel has won first place for both The
Murder Farm and Ice Cold.
The Murder Farm begins with a shock: a whole family
has been murdered with a pickaxe. They were old Danner the
farmer, an overbearing patriarch; his put-upon devoutly
religious wife; and their daughter Barbara Spangler, whose
husband Vincenz left her after fathering her daughter little
Marianne. She also had a son, two-year-old Josef, the result
of her affair with local farmer Georg Hauer after his wife’s
death from cancer. Hauer himself claimed paternity. Also
murdered was the Danners’ maidservant, Marie.
An unconventional detective story, The Murder Farm is
an exciting blend of eyewitness account, third-person
narrative, pious diatribes, and incomplete case file that
will keep readers guessing. When we leave the narrator, not
even he knows the truth, and only the reader is able to
reach the shattering conclusion.