The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Y’all that was messed up.

I’m a fan of mysteries from way back and have read or watched nearly every type of depravity imaginable, and the reason why Cora Bender, innocuous middle-class housewife, slashes the throat of a stranger on a crowded beach still strikes me as fuuuuuuucked up, even as it is thoroughly convincing. I can totally see why Petra Hammesfahr is considered Germany’s Patricia Highsmith: there is a savagery in their prose and their plots that is morbidly fascinating. I cannot imagine how the USA network (and Jessica Biel! Milquetoast Jessica Biel! I’ll spare you my gossipy opinion of her otherwise, but it has definitely improved after learning that she read this book and wanted to bring it to the screen as executive producer and star) managed to bring this story to life for the consumption of American audiences. From the trailers, you can tell that Cora’s husband treats her a hell of a lot better than he does in the book, and I’m kinda… not cool with that. This book is shocking and perfect as it is, and dumbing it down, making it prettier for Americans, just makes me think less of our general viewing public.

Tho, perhaps, it isn’t just our viewing public I have a dim view of now given how, according to Ms Hammesfahr, the German justice system is shockingly more humane than our own. According to the chief investigator:

“The law obliged him not only to investigate Cora Bender but also to gather any evidence that might exonerate her.”

I cannot imagine that happening in America, and that is a tragedy, that this sort of zeal for truth (and its inevitably accompanying belief in compassion) isn’t institutionalized into our justice system. The Sinner was an eye-opener both for this and for how much human depravity I still hadn’t been exposed to. It isn’t the best-written book in the world — there’s a lot of unnecessarily opaque prose about two-thirds of the way through — but it’s a compelling murder mystery that I just could not put down.

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