“In 1925 in the German village of Uffenheim, a man shot a witch who was turning into a werewolf.” From this idea, Jenny Mayhew has produced a novel based on the character study of a small village and not a classic werewolf story. I found the starting idea of this novel very intriguing because of the year of the report, and this book didn’t disappoint but not for the reason I thought.
Hindelheim is a fictitious hamlet located in Germany and set between the two world wars. The story revolves around a set of characters dealing with a family tragedy. The book opens with the arrival of a sidecar-motorcycle in the hamlet of Hindelheim. The presence of a motorised vehicle is rare in this area and accordingly everyone stops their work in the fields and watch where it is heading.
One of the main features of this story is the building of a new road in this very isolated part of rural Germany. This road will connect the hamlet of Hindelheim to the bigger towns of the area. As you would expect with a small community this brings lots of change in how the residents will view their place in the world when it is completed. To emphasise the development of the world and how it communicates the pace of the story is slow. However the slow pacing works with this story as it allows the story to be completed in a very suitable fashion.
Constable Theodore Hildebrandt is narrator of this story. He is a man who served in World War I, but not without a price to his physical appearance and ability to eat comfortably. His physical appearance is mentioned on many occasions throughout the book and while I understand why it’s underlined in some instances, at other times, it is often distracting and not needed. However other characters could have benefited from a fuller development of their physical appearance and personal mannerisms.
Constable Theodore Hildebrandt and Klaus Hildebrandt, his son and deputy constable are called out to the house of the Koenig’s’. They are investigating the disappearance of baby Maria-Theresa Koenig Müller. She has been missing for approximately twelve hours, but it appears from the activities of the family in the house as if the police were called in as a last resort.
The story mainly concentrates on the dynamics of families. Unusually while the main narrator’s family is seen and one relationship is studied, the rest of the family is never seen, therefore as the reader you are not allowed to see the complete family dynamic. The Koenig Müller family all live in one dwelling. Within the house there are two married couples, an elderly mother, a housekeeper and a young child who has severe mental disabilities. The mother of the missing child is Johanna Müller, who corrects the deputy constable that she is in fact Johanna Koenig Müller. It is inferred that she thinks she may have married beneath her by marrying Heinrich Müller. Her brother Peter Koenig, married to Ute, is the doctor of the area. He inherited the position after his father died. The relationship between the brother and sister, Peter and Johanna, is one of extreme closeness. It is almost as if no-one else is allowed to step between the two, not even their spouses. As the story progresses this relationship is examined, however I feel it doesn’t go far enough in its examination. Jenny Mayhew wrote the story to leave this aspect somewhat dangling. Maybe this is to allow the reader draw their own conclusions, but I personally feel there could be a more impacting story if this had been developed more deeply.
The character from the Koenig family that Constable Theodore Hildebrandt engages with is Ute Koenig. She stands slightly separate from the rest of Koenig family, and the possible reasoning’s for this are explained late in the novel. Ute is an intriguing character and she feels an instant spark with Constable Theodore Hildebrandt which I think she finds confusing especially given the stressful circumstances in which they meet.
Other characters of note are Elias Frankel and Eckhardt Gröhlick (formally Corporal Eckhardt Gröhlick). With these two characters we see how rumours can impact on a person’s life. Also seen is how easy it can be to corrupt a person if they are slightly sidelined from the community they live in.
The descriptions of Germany between the two wars I found to be realistic and I could really picture the way people are living. The local people’s histories and their relationships become part of the investigation as the police try to determine who would harm a baby. As with any small area the level of gossiping is high and with it many cases of Chinese whispers occur.
Social history plays a minor role in this novel and there are a few references to eugenics. It is even spoken about by characters who know how the general society will react to it;
“…. “Let’s not talk about it more than we have to, Pedro. At least not the details…. “We are among friends here’ he said, ‘but until the law catches up with our advances in science and ethics, it’s as well to be discreet about the –‘he waved a hand, ‘application of one’s convictions, hmm?””
The other historical context that is referenced in this book is, unsurprisingly, the treatment that certain people had to withstand by a larger group holding disapproving and bigoted values. Jane Mayhew calls this group ‘The German People’s League’. But one major difference with this group and the one we all know about is that they also have a manifesto against mystical creatures and have protocols on how to detect them and to dispose of these aberrations.
Overall this book is well written and keeps the reader engaged, but most importantly it is a somewhat unexpected story.
Any Cop?: This book is not for someone who wants to read a fantasy story, however if you like character studies then this book could be for you. If you live in a small village you may be able to identify with how it is inevitable that everyone always knows your business.
Margaret M. O’ Toole