It’s Christmas in the Austrian town of Furth am See and psychiatrist Raffael Horn is over-run with patients. A young girl is brought to him as she refuses to speak. She has just seen the mutilated body of her grandfather, his head unrecognisable.

Don’t let the title fool you, there is no sugar coating to The Sweetness of Life and its January publication date is probably wise even though it is set of the Christmas week. It’s a bit of a depressing read, especially for this time of year. A large proportion of the book is given to descriptions of Horn’s patients which makes you feel like the whole town is mentally ill.

The cover states that this is a Kovacs and Horn Investigation however Kovacs really doesn’t get much page space and there’s not a lot of investigation going on. It’s more of a study of psychology than a traditional crime novel. In the world of Furth am See, psychopaths seem to get away with anything providing they have a doctor’s note to say it wasn’t their fault and animal cruelty is dismissed. It doesn’t give you much faith in justice for the characters.

The prose switches from second person for Horn and Kovacs and to first person for the thoughts of a troubled boy, who we know about his family. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and many aren’t relevant at all to the plot. I found myself not really understanding the ending. Sometimes it’s great to have questions left unanswered but I was left feeling like I’d missed something.

The Sweetness of Life was originally written in German by Paulus Hochgatterer and has been translated into English by Jamie Bulloch. This paperback edition will be released by MacLehose Press on 5th January 2012. Thanks go to Quercus for sending me a copy to review.