The schoolmaster of a northern German coastal town narrates the tale of Hauke Heien, the highly driven dykemaster who haunts the road along the dyke that bears his name.
As the story begins, it is earthly and normal: young Hauke Heien becomes the apprentice to the former dykemaster, secretly woos his daughter, and eventually inherits the prestigious position himself (raising a few eyebrows in the process). Hauke's latent sinister side is foreshadowed as a boy by the killing of a cat, and later manifests itself in the growing cruelty that ekes from his seemingly sensitive character. His idea to create an enormous new dyke causes the locals (who provide the physical labor) to despise him all the more.
Elements of the supernatural emerge later when Hauke acquires a bony, starved white horse from a mysterious man (the devil?). The eeriness of a horse skeleton coming to life at the dead of night is the pinnacle of the story.
This is a beautifully drawn portrait of man and the pathological changes he undergoes, which are expressed outwardly by the supernatural. Though it has its (few) humorous moments, it is not an uplifting book. I HIGHLY recommend reading this book in its original German, but even the English version won't sacrifice the high drama of this book.