What sharp teeth has BAD WOLF, the sixth book in the Pia Kirchhoff/Oliver von Bodenstein series and the second to be translated (with the wonderfully sturdy efforts of Steven T. Murray) in the United States. Kirchhoff and von Bodenstein are police detectives operating in Germany’s Taunus Mountain region north of Frankfurt, the perfect setting for a series that gives a subtle nod to the horror stories of old that we refer to as “fairy tales.”
Wolves abound in BAD WOLF. We meet one almost immediately, in the disturbing, unsettling prologue, set in a trailer park where a food cart vendor who has experienced a vague but very real fall from financial grace lives in near squalor and demonstrates what is, at the least, an extremely unhealthy interest in one of his young neighbors. He is but one of many carnivores in the forest.
Kirchhoff herself is confronted with another in the early goings by Frank Behnke, a one-time co-worker (“colleague” is perhaps too strong and inappropriate a word) who almost inexplicably has returned to the force and is in a position to potentially do Kirchhoff professional, and possibly personal, harm. Of course, where one has pursuers, one also has the pursued, and among the most heartrending is the unidentified 16-year-old girl whose body is recovered from a river. Nicknamed “The Mermaid” by the police, no one comes forward to claim or identify the young woman, whose body shows signs of horrific abuse.
"What sharp teeth has BAD WOLF, the sixth book in the Pia Kirchhoff/Oliver von Bodenstein series and the second to be translated (with the wonderfully sturdy efforts of Steven T. Murphy) in the United States."
Then there is a television host --- popular with her audience, somewhat less so with her colleagues and the press, the latter of which has nicknamed her “Hanna Heartless” --- whose investigation into another matter earns her an up-close-and-personal entrapment in her car trunk, from which she barely escapes with her life. Some of the most quietly vicious moments in the book, interestingly enough, are between Hanna and her daughter, an angry young woman who seemingly delights in pushing Hanna’s buttons in her most sensitive emotional areas. Another is the verbal sword-crossing between Behnke and Kirchhoff, which alone is worth the price of admission. Still, the murder of the unfortunate, unidentified girl forms the core of BAD WOLF. However, there is much that radiates out from this central issue and then dovetails back to the conclusion, which will leave you gaping in surprise and quiet horror.
The Kirchhoff/von Bodenstein series has achieved international acclaim, in places expected and otherwise (South Korea, for one, believe it or not). Like the original ancient story (as opposed to the sanitized version in which the huntsman saves the day and everyone along with it) that BAD WOLF obliquely references and forms its center, the resolution, in which everyone does not live happily ever after, will haunt you long after the final page is read and the book rests uneasily on your bookshelf, waiting to be read again. Meanwhile, the remaining earlier volumes await what is hopefully their eventual translation and publication, which anyone who has read the first two translated books will wholeheartedly welcome.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2014