The Sinner – Petra Hammesfahr

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The Sinner Translated from the German by John Brownjohn

Five words from the blurb: killed, man, past, childhood, horrors

The Sinner was a bestseller in Germany, staying at the top of the book charts for fifteen months. I can see why it was so popular – it is well written, intelligent, and packed with unexpected twists. It is a shame that it is not well known outside it’s country of origin as I think it is a fantastic piece of crime fiction.

The Sinner begins with Cora, a young mother, stabbing a man in front of her family and friends during a quiet picnic by the lake. She immediately confesses to the crime, but no one can understand why a seemingly normal woman would turn into a cold blooded killer. Through police interviews and a series of flashbacks we discover details of Cora’s troubled childhood and the reason for her violent outburst.

The book is narrated by both Cora and Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian, allowing us to see inside the head of both parties.

Cora Bender had attacked a defenceless man like a maddened beast. She’d gone berserk with her little knife and was showing no hint of remorse or sympathy for her victim. Yet to see her sitting there with her lips trembling, enumerating her husband’s good qualities, anyone would have thought she was the victim.

It is perfectly structured with little hints (and red herrings!) dropped at frequent intervals, ensuring the momentum is maintained throughout.

As well as being a clever why-dunnit piece of crime fiction The Sinner is also a gripping psychological insight into the mind of a troubled woman. Cora’s difficult childhood is described with great empathy, giving the reader that rare ability to have sympathy with a murderer.

The concentration on the troubled female mind means that this book will appeal to women more than men, but I loved reading a piece of crime fiction where the central character is so well drawn.



I read this as part of German Literature Month. Head over to Lizzy’s Literary Life and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat to find out about a wide range of German literature.

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  1. Lizzy Siddal says:

    I nearly read this instead of Fitzek for crime week. Glad I didn’t now that I know I have another fantastic read to look forward to in December.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lizzy, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it – I look forward to yuor thoughts :-)

  2. I do love psychological thrillers and this one seems to appeal to me…..the troubled mind makes for a wonderful story generally. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I’m a big fan of troubled minds too :-) I hope you decide to read this one and enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. Louise says:

    Wow, looks fantastic. I’ve rushed off to Amazon to see if it’s on Kindle. Sadly not, but have added it straight away to my WishList. And when the Christmas list goes out I think it’s going to be top of my pile. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Jackie says:

      Louise, I’m sorry to hear that it isn’t available on kindle, but I hope Santa is good for you!

  4. Sandy says:

    This is completely my thing. I’d love a chance to read this…I’m wondering if it is even available over here. I’m going to go look!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, It doesn’t look as though it is out in the US, but I spotted copies on for $0.01. I was interested to see that the reviews are a lot less positive on the US amazon site – average 3 stars compared to 4.5 stars on UK site. I’ll be interested to see what you make of it.

  5. Caroline says:

    As you know from my recent post, I really like Hammesfahr. I haven’t read this one but she has written a lot of books I liked and am looking forwad to thmore of her books will be translated.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, I so pleased that Hammesfahr has written a lot of other books. I look forward to trying them and hope that more are translated soon. :-)

  6. FleurFisher says:

    I’m so pleased you were impressed by this book – I was when I read it last year, and I have another Hammesfahr lined up to read.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on her other books – I hope they are as good as this one :-)

  7. I’m so excited – crime fic is my favourite genre currently and I haven’t heard of this one! I must go and hunt this down immediately!

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I’m so pleased I was able to draw her to your attention. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this one.

  8. I haven’t heard of this book although lots of German novels are translated to Dutch. Well, not quite true, when it comes to thrillers, we mainly have Scandinavian authors!

    I sounds very interesting although I’m a little weary about explaining someone’s criminal behaviour by looking at their past. It’s bit old-hat really. But the book sounds good!

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I know what you mean about the premise sounding unoriginal, but this is one of the best examples of the idea. It has a lot of twists and turns and is much more intelligent than most.

      It soiunds as though our countries are very similar when it comes to crime fiction – we have many more Scandinavian authors in the UK too.

  9. stujallen says:

    I ve yet to read a german crime novel ,I tend to stick to german lit fiction but this does sound good and john brownjohn is a great translator ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I hadn’t read any German crime fiction either. It doesn’t seem to be something we read here in the UK. I hadn’t even heard of any until I started to do my research for German Literature week, but I’ll be reading a lot more in the future.

  10. Maxine says:

    This book is one of my absolute favourite crime novels. Brilliant.

    1. Jackie says:

      Maxine, I can see why you love it!

  11. joanna says:

    This sounds great. I always find it so interesting to read books that are bestsellers in countries I don’t know well. Especially by authors from those countries. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Jackie says:

      Joanna, It is strange that some books do not make it across borders – especially when they are as enjoyable as this one. I hope you like it!


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