Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Winter Reads: The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

I very seldom seek out a novel unless I'm extremely interested in reading it, which happened to be the exact case with The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr. It was first published in German as Die Sunderin in 1999 and was adapted into a limited series on USA that aired in 2017 starring Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman. I attempted to watch the series on Mediacom On Demand, but for some reason the cable company decided not to put up the final four episodes. I ended up buying the series on DVD around the same time I got the novel. Despite my eagerness to finish watching the series and then read the book, I never got around to doing either. I had forgotten about both until I stumbled upon season two's DVD last month, which I ended up buying. It seems the second season is an original story with Bill Pullman's detective character investigating another crime.

Anyways, I'd picked up the book, which was collecting dust on the coffee table, on Dec. 23rd. I had a few minutes to kill until Outlander started on STARZ, and I read a few pages with no real intent to actually reading it. I didn't open the book again until the end of last week and I finished reading it last night.

While I had only seen 4 episodes of the USA series, I could clearly tell many differences between the series and the book. For starters, the book is set in Germany and many of the character's names have been changed. In the book the main character is named Cora Bender, but in the television series her name is Cora Tannetti. Her husband Gereon was changed to Mason and police commissioner Rudolf Grovian was changed to Detective Harry Ambrose.

The novel centers around a very troubled twenty-four-year-old Cora Bender. Sure, on the outside she looks like a loving wife and mother to a little boy, but she actually has a deranged past that she can no longer run from anymore. On a nice day at the lake, Cora jumps in the water for a quick swim, well at least that's what she told her husband. However, she had all intentions of drowning herself, but she doesn't go through with it. She returns to her husband and son at their picnic spot. Nearby, two couples are having a bit of fun listening to a radio cassette player. After one of the couples begins making out, Cora snaps, picks up the knife that she had just used to cut her son a piece of apple, and charges at the couple. She attacks the man, Georg Frankenberg, and stabs him to death!

To everyone else, Cora is a cold-blooded killer, but Rudolf Grovian, the police commissioner, suspects Cora somehow knew the victim. He takes it upon himself to investigate a connection between the two, but in order to find out the truth, Cora must unravel her own dark, twisted past!

Final Thoughts

The Sinner is a dark psychological thriller about abuse and mental illness. I read the translated version of the German novel, so the pacing at times seemed to be a little bit off, but maybe it feels that way because I'm not German. Despite the pacing, I was emotionally connected to Cora, a character who had a crazy religious mother (think of Carrie by Stephen King), a strange relationship with her father, and a very sick little sister, who all played a major role in Cora's psyche. There are many red herrings throughout the novel as police commissioner tries to understand why Cora killed George Frankenberg. 

Overall, The Sinner is well-written thriller with a few twists and turns that I didn't see coming. It's not for every reader, as there are some disturbing (and detailed) scenes in it. The novel will definitely haunt you way after you have finished reading it.


  1. I haven't read the book, but I didn't realize there was so much difference between the book and the popular show. Still, it sounds like both are really good.

    1. From what I remember from the four episodes that I had watched, there's quite a bit of difference. The book is more darker and violent. Cora as a wife and mother is more "normal" in the series than what she appears in the book prior to the stabbing. Rudolf Grovian is your typical cop in the book, while the series' version is flawed with plenty of personal problems. I'll have to finish watching the first season sometime soon.


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