Higgly Hen by Axel Scheffler
Imagine if everyone you knew, everyone you considered a friend, immediately became a prime suspect in the brutal kidnapping of your own unborn children? Where would you turn? Who would you trust?
This is the harrowing scene conjured by the dark mind of Scheffler in this pulse-pounding, spine-chilling, ‘whodunit’ psychological thriller, set on an unassuming rural farm that, as we later discover, may hold secrets yet to be unearthed by one of its inhabitants.
Scheffler sets the scene early, playing on the single most heart wrenching fear of any parent. Our protagonist, Higgly Hen, discovers that her precious eggs are missing. Snatched from right, quite literally, under her. The farm, the only world she’s ever known, her sanctuary, immediately becomes a hotbed of paranoia. Who can she trust? If anyone at all?
Was it the cows? Was it the pig? The horse? Scheffler bends and twists his readers, guiding their accusatory finger at each and every one without ever pointing it directly at any character in particular.
The suspense builds to an inevitable climax when Higgly reaches the barn. The barnyard cat offers to help Higgly search, but his motives are never quite clear, and immediately arouse suspicion.
This is where a writer like Scheffler weaves his magic. The reader is bound by the very same mental anguish and emotional torment that our protagonist, Higgly Hen, experiences. He is the M. Night Shyamalan of barnyard suspense. Twist after twist after twist is layered in such a way that one can never quite stop second guessing themselves.
This is his “what’s in the box?” moment.
The barnyard cat, who we immediately suspect to be of ill nature, reveals that Higgly’s eggs were not stolen at all…
… they had, unbeknownst to her, hatched. And the chicks had wandered into the barn.
Rather than eat them, like any barnyard cat would, he had kept them safe and sound.
In a bundle of hay.
Under his watch.
And all this time, we, through the eyes of Higgly, have accused and blamed everyone we loved for what is essentially our own horrific lapse in judgement.
Which leaves us all to ponder… who is the real monster?