A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew

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A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A slightly woolly debut, but this is definitely an author we'll see more from, as she takes us to a specific place and time, yet provides an ageless, universal look at men made outcasts by both their past and the future.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 9780091944384

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Germany, the 1920s. Whatever that old proverb is about an ending of something merely being a beginning of something else in disguise, this novel is an evocation of it. In the rural habitation of the title a father and son pair of policemen is called to a remote house by news that a newborn baby is missing. In the house is an awkward combination of families – elderly matriarch, her son and daughter and both their spouses – two couples living on top of each other, with a disabled boy and maid in the mix too. We soon are given an explanation for the child being dead – a terrible instance of clumsiness, but like I say, this is only the beginning – of several things, including the older policeman's infatuation with the grieving mother's sister-in-law…

This debut novel is certainly about something in the greater literary sense. It looks at several male characters who have come back from WWI in damaged form, and leaves them in a world working out what the modern man of the future is going to be – in ways that are inherently tied in with German history. Should they be in traditional, til-death-do-us-part marriages, or different kinds of family – or would they be allowed to be a much more contemporary singleton, a stronger, free and easy character? And what happens when that new kind of life is deemed to be something a lot more ancient, down to a combination of rustic fancies and ignorance?

It's a shame that this novel circles around these themes but is a swirling cup of something of quite diluted strength. This is definitely a fair chunk too long. I would argue that while there are few minor characters, some are disposable – the newspaperman especially adds nothing. The book is so much more enjoyable when looking at the two households – that of the family initially being investigated over the baby, and of course that of the two men doing the detective work in their singular, naïve ways. You do need more to create the story, and some of what we get is really worth relishing. While the genre trappings soon disappear from the pages there is still a slight sense of mystery, and an intrigue about some other characters, but I don't feel the author was brave enough to be as overt as she should have been with her themes, subjects and wide range of anti-heroes.

That said Mayhew can definitely write. Her style is on the literary side, but with a richness and intelligence, and never a sense of showing-off. She's tasked herself with creating an environment that is clearly of the twentieth century, and central European, but which for her purposes has to have an edge to it where the style, vocabulary and dialogue are universal, and the time-frame of the novel is fluid – both in it jumping from one strand to another out of strict sequential order, and with the intent to evoke a timeless sense of rurality. Generally this is a very enjoyable stew – a book you have to think about, but not too much; a wide-reaching subject matter pinned down to a strong plot; and in every short chapter a sign that this is an author to watch. If she'd reined in a bit of the soapiness in the back story, and trimmed the fat here and there this would have been a major success. But hey, it is still intelligent, rich – and definitely the beginning of something…

I am glad I received a review copy of it.

More damaged WWI victims can be seen in The Cocaine Salesman by Conny Braam. Soldiers returning to small-town life are also behind the brilliant Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel.

Buy A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Wolf in Hindelheim by Jenny Mayhew at Amazon.com.


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