is a 1988 novella
by British author J. G. Ballard
. Although shaped like a mystery
, we're hardly talking about the classic whodunit
It's June 25, 1988. 32 adult residents of Pangbourne Village, an exclusive West London estate are found brutally murdered in and around their homes. Their 13 children are gone, presumably abducted from the estate, which is guarded by fences, guards and surveillance cameras. A psychiatric adviser to the police has his own ideas about what happened and decides to dig into it, against the advice of the police. We follow the story by way of his "forensic diaries", getting to know, among other things the brutal way in which the grown-ups of the estate were murdered. One of the descriptions I remember best, is one person being electrocuted in the bath with a hairdrier. The theories about what might have happened are many, but at least for the reader, it doesn't take long to figure out which is the most likely answer.
But as mentioned, trying to figure out who did it can't really be said to be the main aim of the story. More interesting questions might be "how" and "why on earth" - and, obviously, whether the story might have any purpose besides breaking a taboo or two (or three or four) when it comes to children, family and the ideals and joys of modern, western society. The story stirs some scary waters and launches some rather radical theories that might just be put there to provoke - or not. I found the story quite fascinating in all its morbidity, and to me the most interesting piece of writing isn't necessarily the one that convinces you that either the narrator or you have all the answers, but rather the one that leaves you with some seriously good questions to ponder - and I'll happily take a provocation or two, especially as long as they're this well written.
The edition my library was so kind as to lend me, is illustrated by Janet Woolley. Her illustrations are haunting and work well with the story, showing little bodies with oversized heads and shiny eyes that still, sometimes, seem to be looking at me although it's been quite a while since I read the novella. I would highly recommend interested readers to try to get hold of the illustrated edition.