Monday, May 24, 2010

catching up on reviews, part I: Don't Look Back, by Karin Fossum

Harvest Book/Harcourt
295 pp.

Don’t Look Back is the second novel in the Inspector Sejer series behind Eve’s Eye (Evas øye), which has not yet been published in English.  Whether or not I missed anything because I  do not read Norwegian is not a big deal;  I still enjoyed Don’t Look Back . I’ll just consider it the first in the series for now.
This novel is a police procedural set in a small village in Norway.  As the story opens, Inspector Konrad Sejer is called out when a small child goes missing.  While investigating that case, the naked body of a teenaged girl named Annie Holland is discovered at the edge of the lake.  Sejer takes that case and brings along his colleague, Skarre.  As the two of them interview the locals  to find out more about the victim, they cannot seem to find any reason at all for anyone to have wanted to kill this girl. She was well liked by everyone.  The only thing Sejer has to go on is that Annie had recently seemed to have become very withdrawn, but hadn’t told anyone why.  Sejer and Skarre will have to dig deeper and deeper until they come up with an answer to why Annie died.

Fossum’s writing is very simple and uncomplicated, without a lot of inner monologues  and angst from the main character.  She is quite good at developing an atmosphere of suspicion and anxiety, setting the tone for the overall investigation, and keeps you reading with prose like this, the answer to a question posed by Sejer to Annie's mother:

There's supposed to be a sea serpent in the fjord here. It's a legend, a story from the old days. If you're out rowing and hear a splashing sound behind your boat, that's the sea serpent rising from the depths. You should never look back, just be careful to keep on rowing. If you pretend to ignore it and leave it in peace, everything will be fine, but if you look back into its eyes, it will pull you down into the great darkness." (49)

The characters are all believable, especially Sejer, who is a grandfather, recently a widower, but someone you know will do the job and stay on it like a pit bull until the case is over.  The plot is straightforward, and the focus is always on the investigation without the author straying off or getting sidetracked, and she throws in a few red herrings along the way to keep the reader guessing.  While the book moves at a very good pace, the story is never hurried and the investigation and solution were both realistic, and I never saw the end coming,  which is a plus because I often do.

Fans of police procedurals, Scandinavian crime fiction and crime fiction in general will like this book.  I have all of the other Inspector Sejer novels lined up, ready to read, so that must tell you something.

 fiction from Norway

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