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by Karin Fossum
The Harvill Press, July 2004
256 pages
ISBN: 1843430916

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The jacket photograph of Karin Fossum, much-translated and award-winning author of WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS THE CANDLE , shows a seemingly happy person from whom one could expect upbeat writing. Not so. The content of this novel is very dark and depressing indeed. Originally released in 1998, this episode in the adventures of Inspector Konrad Sejer will no doubt be greeted with some enthusiasm by those crime fiction readers who demand a high literary standard from the authors they enjoy.

The book opens with the visit to a police station by Irma Funder, a social misfit of about 60. She attempts to tell Jacob Skarre, the officer on duty, something but he misunderstands, thinking she wishes to report the disappearance of her husband. Irma leaves the police station before correcting Skarre's misapprehension -- she is actually attempting to tell him that she knows the whereabouts of teenager Andreas who had vanished some days previously.

On the last day when Andreas and his best (and only) mate Zipp are seen together the duo are hell-bent on mischief. They harass a Somalian lad, Matteus, who, unbeknownst to them, is the adopted grandson of Inspector Sejer. Andreas and Zipp are short of cash so decide to mug someone but it has to be someone defenceless who cannot put up a fight, so they pick on a young mother who is pushing a pram along the beach. The teenagers see that the woman has a purse on the handle of the pram so Andreas steals the handbag. The mother tries to stop him but doesn't secure the brake on the pram. The baby falls out, with disastrous consequences.

Later, having drunk what they purchased with the meagre contents of the stolen bag, Andreas and Zipp decide they will mug someone. It is late at night and Irma is walking home from the theatre. They stalk her but when she seems to sense them and becomes increasingly nervous, they split up, intending to rejoin forces and tackle the woman at her home.

Andreas follows Irma inside while Zipp strives, fruitlessly, to see what is happening from outside the house. When Andreas does not reappear, Zipp decides his friend is playing a joke on him and returns disconsolately to his own home.

The following day, Andreas' mother Runi reports his disappearance to the police. Given that the boy has been missing for such a short time, the police are not terribly interested but eventually start to see that his continued absence could be worrying. Zipp would be able to tell them when he last saw Andreas but has fresh secrets to protect so lies to them. And Irma holds the key.

As mentioned previously, this is not a happy book. None of the characters leads a particularly pleasant life and the worst of Irma's secrets is reserved until the final pages. The narrative brings to mind certain aspects of the writing of Stephen King -- most especially, for the purposes of this book, King's MISERY.

There is no denying the power of this author's story-telling. It will be interesting to see if Karin Fossum's abilities are recognised to such an extent that she may win some of the better-known English language awards such as the Edgar.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, August 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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