Cora Bender on a summer outing to the Otto Maighler Lido with her husband and young son has decided to kill herself, but suddenly she attacks and repeatedly stabs with a small fruit knife a stranger.
She is pulled off the man and confesses to the murder, and it seems a open and shut case. But as police detective Rudolf Govian interviews her and investigates her tragic past he wonders if there is a connection with the victim hidden behind a protective wall in Cora’s troubled mind.
A confused and muddled Cora tells him various lies, half truths and half remembered details of her life. Cora has had a dreadfully deprived childhood in a house where her mother’s insane religious fanaticism is contrasted with her father’s overwhelming sexual frustration and his understandable guilt over his actions during the war in Poland.
The family’s life has been sacrificed to an unhealthy commitment to her beautiful but invalid sister, Magdalena, with devastating consequences.
Petra Hammesfahr takes the reader on a harrowing journey into Cora’s very disturbed mind which leaves you temporarily exhausted but ultimately satisfied.
This must have been a difficult book to translate and John Brownjohn has done a fine job in bringing Petra Hammesfahr’s novel to an English readership. Author Petra Hammesfahr has written over twenty crime novels, and has won several prizes in Germany, including the Rhineland Literary Prize.
The Sinner delves deeply into the psychological quagmire that is Cora’s angst ridden psyche. It is not a comfortable read, because of the subject matter, but it is a gripping story that covers adult subjects in a straightforward almost clinical fashion. The narrative makes the reader feel all the pent up emotion and frustration of the main characters and leaves you drained at the end.
Any family with more than one child is faced with the problem of balancing time between siblings, those families with an invalid or special needs child face a much more difficult time. In Cora and Magdalena’s family the failure to balance their needs in such an extreme manner has caused deep psychological wounds.
The Sinner is simply a brilliant novel about human emotions, desires and how the mind is so vulnerable to trauma both physical and mental.
It is a powerful well written book that is a compulsive reading experience, but probably not if you are feeling a little bit depressed before you start.
The very best crime fiction is all about characters, plot and making you think about life, and The Sinner is a very good psychological thriller that fits those criteria.
I have commented elsewhere that I could not understand how that out of twenty three books nominated in the last four years for the CWA International Dagger only one book was originally written in German.
If the general standard of German crime fiction is anywhere near the quality of The Sinner that state of affairs is even more bizarre.
It was suggested that I might seek some light relief before starting my next crime fiction book tonight. Therefore today I will read some chapters from Brest Litovsk, The Forgotten Peace, March 1918, written by John Wheeler-Bennett in 1938.
The Russian Revolution, Lenin, Trotsky, Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hoffman will indeed be light relief after the angst ridden emotion of The Sinner.