Book review: Don’t Look Back, by Karin Fossum

6 02 2018

Karin Fossum is a Norwegian crime novelist with a background in healthcare, best known for her long-running ‘Inspector Konrad Sejer’ series of police procedurals. She’s won numerous awards for her writing, including the Riverton, Glass Key, Martin Beck, and Gumshoe awards. I’ve previously reviewed several of Fossum’s other titles in the ‘Konrad Sejer’ series.

DontLookBack

Don’t Look Back (Se deg ikke tillbaka!, 1996, translated by Felicity David) is the second in the Sejer series, though the first to appear in English translation. It opens with the apparent abduction of five-year-old Ragnhild on her walk home from a sleepover within a small Norwegian community, but (on Ragnhild’s safe return) instead becomes an investigation into the murder of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Annie Holland (her body found by Ragnhild), dead, naked and ostensibly drowned in the backwoods tarn on whose shore she was left lying. Within the close-knit community Annie was widely known and apparently universally liked; so why was she killed? There are no signs of sexual assault, no indications of her involvement in anything illicit: Sejer and his colleagues must dig deep within the mess of secrets that lurk at the little village’s heart.

Fossum’s crime novels have a tendency to unfold with a surprising gentleness, in part because Konrad Sejer is an atypical Nordic sleuth—a soft-spoken, abstemious, widowed grandfather, seemingly unwilling to think ill of his fellow humans—and in part because Fossum takes care to subtly emphasise the humanity and complexity of all her characters. It’s almost possible, if one doesn’t probe too deeply within the story, to categorise it as ‘cosy’; and yet that would be a mistake, since there is definitely a grim backbone of steel beneath the writing’s outer layers, and a terrier-like determination to Sejer’s investigational style. The crime that unfolds is tragic on several levels, and more confronting because we have been led to care about all of the participants. Fossum is, for my money, one of the best of the Nordic crime novelists, her unhurried storytelling both intellectually and emotionally satisfying (and, often, as here, thoroughly disquieting).

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