Grisly thriller Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner

Austrian author Bernhard Aichner spent six months as an undertaker's assistant as research for his novel.

Austrian author Bernhard Aichner spent six months as an undertaker's assistant as research for his novel.

REVIEW: 

How far would you go to research a novel? Bernhard Aichner spent six months as an undertaker's assistant, gaining the expertise evident in his all-too-realistic depictions of the mortician's role in this dark thriller.

Crime fiction is a crowded genre and presumably he sought the edge such inside knowledge would provide, along with an authentic feel, given that his lead character's family business is an Innsbruck funeral parlour. It seems to have worked – Woman of the Dead has been a hit in Aichner's native Austria and in Germany, with rights selling worldwide.

This is train crash literature: the reader is carried along at breakneck speed, knowing something ghastly is about to happen, tense, horrified but unable to look away.

Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, $38.

Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, $38.

It opens with Brunhilde Blum, 24, murdering her abusive adoptive parents; she relaxes on the deck of their boat while they drown. Damaged by a childhood that included tending to dead bodies, even stitching up mouths at age 10 and being shut in a coffin for punishment, she calls for help only when her parents, with no ladder to reboard, stop screaming. Her rescuer, Mark, is a handsome police officer.

Fast forward eight years and Blum, as she insists on being called, is happily married to Mark, with two children. But when he is killed in a hit and run she discovers he was helping a woman who had been imprisoned and sexually abused for five years.

Blum finds her, realises Mark was murdered and vows to find those responsible for his death and the abuse. What follows is a grisly revenge saga in which Aichner manages to create a sympathetic, amoral serial killer whose early realisation that she has more to fear from the living than the dead serves her well.

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