kristina mahlo, executor

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I really hoped that my new employee would feel at home here and not resign after a short time, as her two predecessors had done because they had imagined dealing with estates differently, somehow more pleasantly. One of them had turned up her nose at neglected households, the other had become nauseous from the smell of decay. I hadn’t concealed any of the downsides of this work in the job interviews. But as with so many things, it became clear that the idea of something didn’t come close to the reality. If you weren’t prepared to grit your teeth and get stuck in, you were doomed to failure in estate administration. It offered one aspect that outweighed everything else for me: I saw myself as an advocate for the dead, looking after their legacies and last wishes.

from: Das Verstummen der Krähe

What remains of a Life …

Kristina Mahlo, in her early 30s, is waiting for her new colleague Funda at the start of the series. She lives in Obermenzing, a quiet neighbourhood in Munich, on a former farm. This is also where she has set up her office and her archive, where she temporarily stores everything that comes to light in estates and needs to be processed and handled by her. Funda, in her late 20s, comes and stays; she copes with the chaos and the rubbish dumps – and her Turkish mother bakes vast quantities of baklava and other delicacies, which always find their way into Kristina’s office.

Kristina doesn’t live alone on the farm; her parents live in one of the other buildings, Kristina’s boyfriend Simon runs his wine shop there and Henrike, a newcomer from northern Germany, has found and rented space for her junk shop. Then there’s Rosa, Simon’s dog, and Alfred, the crow, who picks up his walnut every morning.

At first I thought it was a perfect idyllic life, but not all that glitters is gold. Right at the beginning of the series, Kristina discovers early in the morning after getting up that the candle in the lantern at the entrance to the courtyard is no longer burning. A candle has been burning there for six years … day and night. Now it’s extinct and Kristina can’t explain how this can happen to a solid, windproof lantern. She reacts quickly and lights the candle again immediately so that her father doesn’t notice. It would be a disaster for him.

This brings us to the centre of Kristina and her family’s lives: everyone has been thrown off course; the idyll is only an idyll in appearance. Six years ago, Ben, Kristina’s younger brother, disappeared without a trace.

Ben was of above-average intelligence and studied computer science. He lived in a shared flat on the farm in Obermenzing until he disappeared. His parents were desperate and gave up their bookshop in Hesse to move to the farm in Obermenzing, which his father had inherited a few years earlier. From here they tried to organise the search for Ben. There were no leads. They separated five years ago, but remain on the farm – in separate flats. They can no longer speak to each other and only do communicate via notes.

After completing a banking apprenticeship, Kristina began studying law in Berlin, which she cancelled shortly before graduating because she wanted to concentrate on the search for Ben. Without success. Kristina moved to Munich, but was unable to resume her studies. She began working as an estate administrator; her previous knowledge from her banking apprenticeship and her law degree helped her. She has built up a good reputation and is repeatedly appointed executor by the probate court.

Ben’s disappearance has turned Kristina and her parents’ lives upside down, almost destroyed them. Everyone is still suffering today. There is this uncertainty, the eternal hope … Kristina’s father has set up the lantern with the ever-burning candle and firmly believes that Ben is still alive and will return – unless the flame goes out …

So much for Kristina’s personal background; then we have her cases. She always works on several cases at the same time, because organising an estate takes … Months or even years. Whether it’s tracing missing distant relatives or the sale of household goods, flats, houses or land. Ultimately, Kristina is responsible for handling everything correctly and documenting it verifiably – and filling the state coffers if no heir is found.

The series begins with the suicide of a terminally ill woman with cancer, who leaves behind a will with extraordinary demands that make Kristina seriously consider whether she can accept this task at all. Then she has to deal with the life of an old man who suffered from paranoia and turned his house into a fortress. Finally, in the last case in the series so far, she encounters a totally terrified woman who has died as a result of her panic-stricken fear.

Basically, the cases sound trivial, especially as they are all about settling the estate, but the reality is that Kristina not only has to examine the dead person’s documents for birth certificates, insurance policies and tenancy agreements, but usually delves deep into their lives in the process.

The dead also had family and friends. There were entanglements and disputes. There was crime, envy and hatred. There was revenge – and many a dead person fell victim to an act of revenge. There are often deeds that lie decades in the past that are finally settled. And it doesn’t always mean that the police have recognised a criminal offence.

Kristina is intensively involved with the life stories of her victims and sometimes experiences acts of violence directed at her when an offender thinks she is getting too close. Would we have thought this of an executor of an estate who is actually just rummaging through the dust of old papers?

Dealing with the lives of the dead often brings to light complicated family relationships (keyword: illegitimate children), leads to friends who are all very nice to each other on the surface, but who are smouldering underneath (keyword: money problems), to crimes that lie in the past and are suddenly stirred up today by the death of one of those involved. Morbid parenting methods have produced mentally ill people who aggressively pursue their goals and will walk over dead bodies to do so – and if they are intelligent, nobody notices the little murders that are committed. But the dead also leave behind messages and diaries, writing a chronicle of their crimes that expose others.

Let’s return to Kristina’s big challenge: the will of the woman with cancer who lost her husband to suicide after he was convicted of murdering a friend. She believed in his innocence, always, rock solid. In her will, she deliberately chooses Kristina Mahlo as the executor of her will and instructs her to find the real murderer. She suspects him to be one of her circle of friends, to whom she bequeaths her entire fortune – provided, of course, that the real culprit is found.

Kristina hesitates, because she doesn’t see playing detective and hunting for the murderer as part of her role as executor of the estate. But the dead woman throws out another decoy: She mentions Ben. Ben allegedly played a role in the murder between friends. Kristina is torn. Ben’s disappearance has almost destroyed her life and that of her family: should she revisit everything? Is there really a connection to the murder? Kristina finally accepts and sets a lot of things in motion in the process – and without getting ahead of herself: Ben’s disappearance is also cleared up.

Kristina is actually a completely normal young woman, a little alternative, a little afraid to enter into relationships – quite unspectacular. Even though her brother’s disappearance has completely changed her life, she is not a failed existence. She tries to make the best of it. As the executor of the estate, she takes her duties very seriously, but she is still curious enough to engage in a dialogue with the dead person and his past with each case and to try to do justice.

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a faint cold fear thrills through my veins ... william shakespeare