Markus Hauser is a vulnerable young man with a murky past, a troubled drifter who can barely be bothered to drift. But his life is to change dramatically when he takes a job with Selma Bruhns, an elderly woman who pays him to collate her stockpile of personal letters.
It quickly becomes clear that things are going to end badly – or, at least, violently – as the tricksy, chronologically jumbled narrative leaps forward to a police investigation into the death of Frau Bruhns. What initially seems to be a superior piece of tough crime fiction then starts to move into much more provocative terrain.
The novel’s clever, fragmented structure can be infuriating, but it is also effective, allowing Schröder to wring a surprising amount of tension from the familiar trope of an aged spinster living alone in a derelict, cat-infested house. He is also an astute observer of human foibles – perhaps because, when not writing, he drives a taxi.
The climactic revelation, with its link to a dark period in German history, is predictable, and some will be irritated that this essentially straightforward story is told in such a convoluted, even contrived fashion. Yet Schröder’s masterful control of pace, teasing slow-reveal of information and finely attuned eye for detail are enough to let him get away with it. Just.