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A Wolf in Hindelheim
on 11 July 2013
This debut novel is set in a remote German village in 1926. Constable Theodore Hildebrandt is called to the house of Heinrich Muller and his wife, Joanna. The couple live with Joanna's elderly mother, her doctor brother, Peter Koenig, and his young wife, Ute. Heinrich and Joanna have a young son and recently had a new baby daughter, who is missing. The suspected abduction of a baby is considered by Theodore and his deputy, (and son) Klaus as, frankly, a minor incident. When asked by Joanna about what he can do, the Constable has few suggestions and, in any case, he is more interested in his attraction to Ute Koenig than anything else. Ute herself feels, "as if someone or something wicked is playing a game on everyone here." Indeed, the small village is oppressive, isolated and there have been rumours that a wolf has been sighted...
When a young Jewish shopkeeper is said to have visited the Muller's house on the day the baby went missing, he seems a possible suspect. Constable Hildebrandt is not convinced, but then, as Klaus complains, he has, "the luxury of being an outsider." Klaus himself is married and his disgruntled wife is expecting a baby. Theodore is a man who has returned damaged from the trenches to find that things have changed and that modernity is beginning to intrude on the quiet corner of the world he previously called his own; there is a new road being built and a canning factory is being planned. When the ambitous Officer Zelinsky asks Klaus to accompany him on a visit to the Muller's, to pay a courteous visit and smooth feathers that Theodore has ruffled, he asks whether Klaus is for the new world or the old. In many ways, this is what this atmospheric book is about - a time of change, when dangerous ideas - such as the new theory of eugenics and improving the race - are in the air, alongside old superstitions.
If you enjoy historical mysteries, then you will certainly like this novel. It has a real sense of place, an unusual setting and great characters. Theodore Hildebrandt is a man who has returned injured from the war, to find himself distanced from his son, unwanted by his daughter in law and at odds with the changing times. Ute Koenig was a young woman who enjoyed teaching, but is now under attack for wanting to take the jobs of men who fought for their country. The book straddles a time of huge changing attitudes and it is these emerging events which are of as much importance as the crime that Theodore is called to investigate. I thought this a really enjoyable read, recommend it highly and hope we hear much more from this very talented author.