Book review: The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic

The Camera Killer
by Thomas Glavinic
translated by John Brownjohn
Amazon Crossing, 2012
First published in Austria, 2002

This novella, just over 100 pages long, takes the form of a statement. A young man and his partner Sonja travel to the country to stay with their friends Heinrich and Eva for a few days over Easter, in the middle of rural, conservative Austria. The foursome hear of a terrible crime, in which a man has kidnapped three boys and persuaded two of them to commit suicide. The book consists of a description of the foursome’s activities in the days leading up to an arrest: cooking, eating, playing games and some degree of interaction with the locals.

While the friends pursue their apparently innocent activities, they follow the horrible story of the murders on TV. The killer’s video camera has been found, so there is much debate on the media, from politicians and religious authorities about the justification of showing the film of the boys’ deaths. Heinrich becomes obsessed with the TV coverage, whereas the two women alternate between hysterical fear and fascinated horror. All four of them seem compelled to not only watch the case unfold, but also, when it appears that the killer may still be on the loose and in the area where they are staying, to participate in local gossip and speculation.

The Camera Killer won the Friedrich Glauser prize for crime fiction in 2002, so it is a book to be taken seriously. I found it unenjoyable, as it is a straight description of events designed to show the characters’ moral emptiness and detachment from reality – for example by the way Sonja is named only once, and by the way that the foursome switch to playing badminton or cooking dinner whenever there is nothing about the case on TV or in the papers. The crime itself is so horrific that I did not want to read any of the details about it. There is no explanation of the motivation for the murders here (perhaps not a bad thing): people are simply blank slates whose characters and motives can only be surmised by the reader.

9 thoughts on “Book review: The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic

  1. Pingback: The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic | Petrona Book Reviews archive

  2. Maxine – I can see exactly what you mean about not finding this one enjoyable. There seems no real character development and what’s worse, no real discussion of the crime’s effects. Or rather, it’s distressing that the crime doesn’t seem to really deeply affect anyone. Perhaps it is to be taken seriously, but I probably won’t be reading it.

  3. It reminds me a bit of Schenkel’s ‘The Murder Farm’ which was so dispassionate in its portrayal of violence it left me stone cold. I have ‘The collini case’ on my shelf to read. I’m looking forward reading it and I’ll probably give this one a miss.

    • I agree that there are strong similarities, at least in terms of the emotions evoked, in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s first two books (The Murder Farm and Ice Cold) – both of which were forensic descriptions of murders with the book’s characters reduced to passive observers. Not my sort of thing – I hope you’ll like The Collini Case which has much more of a heart.

  4. Maxine: It sounds like I could read the actual disclosure from one of my real life criminal cases and learn more about the participants and their motivations. I will pass.

  5. Pingback: August reading report and book of the month | Petrona

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