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BLACK SECONDS
by Karin Fossum
Harvill Secker, July 2007
272 pages
11.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846550181


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Karin Fossum's territory is the small, outwardly-respectable Norwegian town where passions remain hidden beneath the neat surface. There's nothing steamy about these books, though, memorable as they are for their cool, clinical prose.

In BLACK SECONDS Ida Joner, a pretty, perfect nine-year-old gets on her new bike to go to the shop and buy a comic and sweets. When she doesn't return, family, friends and the police mount a search. But the child has disappeared into thin air.

In many ways BLACK SECONDS is less about the police procedural aspect and more about the dynamics of families, even those that appear to be united and happy. Ida's story almost takes a back seat as the book focuses on Emil Mork, a 50-something man with learning difficulties, and his elderly mother Elsa, and on the family of Ida's aunt Ruth and her relationship with teenage son Tomme.

As with Fossum's previous book, CALLING OUT FOR YOU!, the strengths are undoubtedly the writing (some point of view slips apart) and the tight focus on the small community. And again the weakness is the plotting the small pool of people in the book virtually guarantees you will guess what happens with absolutely no difficulty.

I'm very fond of police procedurals, and particularly enjoy those from outside the UK and the US. But Fossum's cops are a strange bunch. There's the courtly and distinguished Inspector Konrad Sejer and his younger sidekick Jacob Skarre. The interplay between them the younger man sees his boss as a can do no wrong mentor is promising but never quite delivers. And if you're used to the proactive policing of Britain and America, you may find the low-key, almost hands-off approach of these Norwegian officers a tad strange.

Sejer is a fascinating character and deserves more of a focus in the books than he is sometimes granted. He's tall and stately, and believes in treating his suspects with dignity. So where most officers would go in for the metaphorical kill with no difficulty, Sejer prefers to back off and allow the person to confess in their own time.

The books fit more happily into the psychological suspense camp than they do police procedurals. Charlotte Barslund's crisp, measured translation appears to do justice to Fossum's understated prose. If you enjoy Barbara Vine's books, Fossum is worth your time, even though her books often appear rather lightweight and predictable by comparison.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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