The brutal murder of an old man in an Austrian village is one of many interlocking plot threads in this dense psychological mystery.
During Christmas week, young Katharina visits her grandfather at his cabin in the woods; when he disappears, she finds him in the snow with his throat cut and his face smashed in. Scarred by the experience, Katharina can no longer talk and won’t let go of the two plastic game pieces she was holding. But after this evocative start, the book abandons conventional structure and presents a series of subplots and character sketches, not all related to the main plot. Investigating detective Ludwig Kovacs and child psychiatrist Raffael Horn both have their own personal struggles—Kovacs is having a dead-end affair, and Horn has an unrequited longing for his own wife—but these threads aren’t picked up. More of the town’s violent undercurrents are revealed; peripheral characters include a pastor who thinks in unconnected (and uncredited) Bob Dylan quotes. Nothing is really resolved when the murderer’s identity is given, relatively early in the book through one of many internal monologues. The book aims to show that all life is interconnected in its sweetness and brutality, but the weighty theme doesn’t resonate when so many smaller themes are left hanging.
Despite some beautifully written passages, Hochgatterer’s (The Mattress House, 2012, etc.) short book has too many digressions and dead ends to be enlightening as philosophy or satisfying as a mystery.