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A View From Norway

March 18, 2010

Karin Fossum

Lately, I’ve been hooked on Scandinavian crime novels, most recently those by Karen Fossum, known in her native Norway as the Queen of Crime. Judging from the two books I’ve read so far, she deserves the royal title.

The Water’s Edge, the sixth novel in the Inspector Sejer series, was my first introduction to Fossum. The setup  and initial point of view were intriguing: a married couple hike through a forest on the outskirts of Oslo. It’s an ordinary scene, a pair of retirees taking a stroll together. However, privy to the wife’s internal thoughts, we learn she’s unhappy, afraid of her domineering husband, and worried about why he’s been so quiet. Is one of them about to become a murder victim?

No, instead, after crossing paths with another hiker, they discover a dead body, that of a small boy. That’s when I started having doubts. Do I want to know where this is going? I love suspense but I have a low tolerance for gratuitous violence and senseless killings, especially anything involving children.

A little skeptical, I kept reading. The couple realizes that may have been the murderer they passed earlier. They report the crime and now we’re in Inspector Sejer’s point of view. Our flawed hero is lonely, long since divorced, and living alone. The adult daughter he did not help raise drops in for unannounced, random visits, testing his patience but obviously trying to win his love and attention. Despite his lack of adequate forward motion in this area or in his equally stagnant love life, you feel Sejer’s need to find the truth when he’s working a case.

For that reason alone, we accompany him on his journey for the truth and even root for him despite his personal failings. When we have to face a difficult, violent truth about the murdered child, it’s a tad more bearable with him as our guide.

Fossum’s fourth Inspector Sejer novel, The Indian Bride, takes on the premise of the first Indian immigrant to a small Norwegian community. Of course, I had to read it! Again, she begins her tale from the point of view of characters whose lives are about to change drastically. Simple Gunder Jomann, who sells farm equipment in his rural town, takes his first trip outside Norway to find a bride in India, and his younger sister is pretty concerned. I won’t tell you more—finding out where this all leads is highly compelling, one of the strongest portions of the book.

Both books are relatively small, quiet, and satisfying. Fossum kept me turning the page but not so fast that I couldn’t get to know the characters and enjoy the growing psychological suspense along with the whodunit factor. The character development for both books is strong, subtle and packs an emotional punch.

As Publisher’s Weekly commented in its starred review of The Indian Bride:

“Fossum may not be well-known outside a select circle, but that could change with the publication of this outstanding contemporary police procedural…. The ending is not one most readers will expect, but it perfectly suits the tale of sad, little lives and the tragic consequences of chance.”

Well put, and for me, this describes both the Fossum books I read.

I look forward to reading the other installments of this fine series. Have any of you read any other books by this author or others from the region?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. helena gardella permalink
    March 18, 2010 8:12 am

    Great review! I think I might have to read those books!

  2. March 18, 2010 9:01 am

    WOW! Karin sounds like a great author. And, I love the culture in that area, considering my grandmother was Sweedish. Added to my Goodreads queue.

    You also made me realize that I used to ready mysteries, A LOT, but have gotten away from them. I’ll have to hit you up for some more good mysteries, or I’ll just check out your Goodreads account. You got it up to date?

    • March 18, 2010 9:12 am

      Wendy, if you haven’t read any of the Swedish crime fiction yet, you’ll have to check it out. I think you’d LOVE Stieg Larsson’s books. The third and last installment of his series comes out in the U.S. this spring. He had another three or more books mapped out but died of a heart attack before he wrote them. (There’s talk about someone else using his outlines to write them, possibly his girlfriend, who was also his writing partner. Interesting idea, no?)

      In any case, I chose to review Karin Fossum instead of the Swedish crime writers because most of them are better known in their own region as well as around the world. Fossum got a couple of the Indian names wrong but her novel was so expertly crafted that it didn’t detract from her story at all.

  3. Heidi Noroozy permalink
    March 18, 2010 11:31 am

    You’ve made her books seem so intriguing, Supriya! My TBR list is about to topple over, but I’ll have to add her. I wonder if flawed, lonely protagonists are a recurring theme in Scandinavian crime fiction. The same could be said of Arnaldur Indridason’s and Henning Mankell’s heros. I love a flawed protag, myself. You are the second person in two days to recommend Stieg Larsson, so he’s moving up on my reading list as well.

    • March 18, 2010 5:30 pm

      Larsson’s books are pretty high octane compared to Fossum’s but his plotting is beyond compare. He keeps so many balls in the air–all interesting subplots, by the way–that you’ll be even more impressed that he can tie them up in the end. My only complaint with his books is the occasionally excessive violence. Still, I expect to put my life on hold when the third book comes out soon. (It’s already released in Europe.)

  4. March 18, 2010 7:09 pm

    Excellent reviews, Supriya. I never associated Sweden and crime novels before, but I just may have to.

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