Grimm and grimmer fairy tale meets terror in a small German town where girls are being abducted again as they were 50 years ago.
English author Grant’s loosely plotted debut opens in Teutonic tragi-comic fashion as the narrator’s grandmother, wreathed in hairspray and close to a naked flame, explodes at the dinner table. But domestic horror is only one facet of a story that also includes traditional folk tales, a vision of a gossipy, vaguely malevolent local community, children in peril and the ordinary trials of unpopular, ten-year-old Pia. Daughter of a British mother and German father who bicker constantly, Pia is ostracized at school, her only friend a boy named StinkStefan. When first Katharina Linden and then other girls go missing, Pia begins to ask questions, discovering that some girls also disappeared just after the war, including Gertrud, the daughter of her elderly friend Herr Schiller, whose sinister brother Herr Düster is suspected of blame. More girls disappear, Pia’s parents decide to separate and Düster falls under suspicion again, leading to Pia and Stefan’s decision to break into his house. The implausible denouement is composed of an interminable sequence of scares and spooks.
Atmospheric moments punctuate a story marked by uncertainties of pace and logic which, despite gruesome content, is probably intended for younger readers.