Seeds of insanity

I thoroughly enjoyed Jenny Mayhew's debut novel A wolf in Hindelheim. Set in the late '20s / early '30s, Wolf is a crime novel, but it's more than that, it's also a portrait of a country on the brink of enormous changes that will have repercussions throughout the world.

Hindelheim is a small German town. Cut-off from much of Germany, it is about to have a renaissance courtesy of the post-First World War road-building programme. As the road edges nearer though there are sinister undertones as the seeds of Nazism start to bud. As the village blames a Jewish outsider for the deaths of a local child and a member of the road-building crew, policeman Theodore Hildebrandt discovers that the truth is much more complicated; and there are ominous portents of the world of the Third Reich.

As a crime novel, Wolf in Hindelheim, is not the best - the crime is in a way peripheral to the plot. This is more literary fiction than crime.What is most important is the changing face of Germany as Mayhew shows how ordinary people were drawn into the pit of Nazism.It's a very dark tale of superstition and fear, a story of society in a time of cataclysmic change, of madness and passive resistance. Mayhew cleverly blends the different strands of society together showing how Germany's apparent descent into insanity was sparked by a few dedicated followers, while the rest of the country followed through a mixture of apathy and fear.

Several critics remarked that there was a quality in the novel akin to the fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm, and I completely agree with this. This is more important than it may seem. It doesn't just provide a dark background to the novel, it's also vital in creating a portrait of a society elements of which are stuck in a fantastical Teutonic past, susceptible to the most extraordinary propaganda. It's a dark, clever story; I'll be very interested to see what Jenny Mayhew writes next.


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