A Wolf in Hindelheim
Rural Germany, 1926. Set in an isolated small village, this story relates a series of strange events and the human irrationality and unpleasantness it prompts. The tale’s main character is a widower, Theodore Hildebrandt, the local constable severely disabled from war wounds, who is called upon to investigate some seemingly minor events in Hindelheim involving the Koenig household. Hildebrandt, a likeable character, has the talent for irritating and upsetting those around him, though he develops a crush on the zesty Ute Koenig, the wife of the village doctor. His researches and suspicions uncover some odd behaviour and eventually trigger mass-irrational interest in a so-called Wolf Man of the village – a young Jewish store-owner Elias Frankel, who escapes from the capture of Hildebrandt’s deputy. The cynical Hildebrandt eventually goes too far for the comfort of his superior officers, but he succeeds (we think!) in unravelling the train of circumstances.
Despite the remote location of Hindelheim, the growing anti-Semitism and belief in the benefits of eugenics that infiltrated 1920s Germany also found their ugly way to the village, and indeed, I wonder if the mass-hysteria over the so-called werewolf is possibly meant by the writer as an allegory of sorts to understand how the German people came to support the extreme doctrines of National Socialism.
This is a literate and enjoyable first novel, with some lovely descriptive narrative. Just at times, the characters seem to lack a little credibility or resonance, giving a little grit to the otherwise well-oiled machine of the novel’s authority for the reader.