The story behind Tannöd


To kick things off, I am reposting this entry written yesterday on my old blog:

The world English rights to Tannöd and Kalteis, both by German author Andrea Maria Schenkel, have sold to British publisher Quercus. Finally! This should have happened sooner considering that Tannöd has been on the bestseller lists in Germany for approximately 36 weeks, and Kalteis jumped onto the list as well immediately after its publication. This week, Tannöd is number 3 and Kalteis is number 1, according to FOCUS Magazin.

Tannöd is a crime thriller based on actual events that took place in the small Bavarian village of Hof Hinterkaifeck in 1922. A farmer, his wife, their widowed daughter, her son and daughter, and the family’s maid were all brutally murdered with a pickaxe in the middle of the night. Several days before the murders, mysterious tracks started to appear in the snow leading from the nearby forest to the farmhouse, and the only house key suddenly went missing. Sometime in the night between March 31st and April 1st, the farmer and his wife, their daughter, and her daughter were killed the stable, and the maid and the young son were killed in the house. The bodies were discovered four days later. Townspeople noticed that the little girl had not gone to school, and the postman saw the mail untouched.

The papers first reported robbery as the motive behind the killings, but the family’s cash, jewelry, and bonds were all still in the house. Further investigation by inspectors from Munich revealed a tense relationship between this family and the townspeople. The family was known to be wealthy but often stingy, hiring help illegally to save money. In addition, the old farmer and his daughter had been convicted of an incestuous relationship in 1915, for which the father went to jail for a year and the daughter for one month. After pursuing several suspects from the town and offering a 100,000 Mark reward for information about the killer, the police still had nothing. The case remains unsolved to this day.

Author Andrea Maria Schenkel recreated this crime in her novel, but she set the story in the 1950s, when postwar Germany was struggling to return to normal life. Schenkel captures the mistrust and religious fervor that gripped Bavaria at the time. Her characters would rather keep their heads down and their noses to the grindstone, but the crime forces them to take notice of each other and their lives. Details surrounding the murder eerily unfold, and the precise language of the novel both reports and terrifies. According to the German press, Schenkel has masterfully captured the Bavarian idioms, something that might be lost in the translation. However, the novel is certainly worth reading when it comes out.

Further sources: Hof Hinterkaifeck, BR-Online (with pictures), Edition Nautilus, Perlentaucher

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Author: Hannah Johnson

When I first came to New York City, I almost ran over Liza Minelli with my suitcase. Then I got a job in book publishing.

3 thoughts on “The story behind Tannöd”

  1. There are some fabulous online resources for literature in translation, including blogs. Check back in a day or so because I will post a list of these resources.

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