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by Karin Fossum and Charlotte Barslund, trans.
Harvill Secker, July 2010
192 pages
11.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846552923

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jon Moreno, Philip Reilly and Axel Frimann have been friends since kindergarten. At the start of the book they are in a cabin near a lake known as Dead Water. In the night they go for a row and for no evident reason Jon gets up and falls into the water. Reilly wants to save him but Axel

says that it's impossible: it's a very cold and dark night, the water is muddy, and Jon cannot swim. And then the drama starts. Axel decides they will hide the truth about what has happened and claim that Jon went out on the lake alone when they were sleeping. From that first event, the bits of the past are uncovered very slowly.

If I were a purist, I'd say this is not a mystery but a novel depicting the psychological mysteries of a group of young men: Axel, Reilly and Jon, with Kim, an added ghost, already dead when the book begins, but whose body turns up later on. Axel is a selfish man, always a step ahead of the others and scheming to have his way. Reilly, a weak young man in fear of living, takes drugs so he may endure his drab existence. Jon is a troubled boy with psychological problems arising from a deep sense of guilt. He is staying at a psychiatric hospital and the weekend in the cabin was planned by his friends as a way to cheer him up. Kim is a cipher, a seventeen year old lonely kid in a strange country.

The police pair, Sejer and Skarre, have little to detect. They smell something wrong but cannot get evidence. Though their role as investigators is small, they are delineated with a fine pen. In a scene in Sejer's house, he talks with his dog, named Frank Robert. And the same dog goes with him to visit his wife's grave. These are little scenes, but touching, as we see a lonely man with very little hope in his breast.

The mothers of the two dead boys meet and strike a singular friendship arising from their need to understand what happened and why their sons are now dead. One is a Norwegian married to an Italian, the other a Vietnamese who fled from her country to save her son. Other interesting characters are Molly, Jon's girlfriend at the psychiatric hospital, and Hanna Wigert, his

psychiatrist. Even the animals are treated with subtlety and grace: Sejer's dog and the little kitten found by Reilly in the cabin that turns into his companion and then leaves him in a wrenching scene.

The center of the book is the friendship of the three men, although there were a number of times that I doubted that it was really friendship that bonded them. Maybe they wanted to fulfill their needs in the others. These are ordinary boys, young men with families in a country noted for its freedom and stability. Axel is one of those destined to come out on top; Reilly is bumbling through life without finding a way; Jon is a man with psychological problems who has suffered since birth. Their crime is caused by selfishness, not by strong needs or evil tendencies. What made them do what they did is what interests Fossum, and what she makes me take an interest in.

The plot is not very important, but the characters' inner thoughts are. To me the author's main concern is a study of guilt, guilt and compassion. I might not wish to read a treatise on guilt, but I learnt something about it from this book.

Susy Puggioli is a retired literature professor who was born and lives in Argentina.

Reviewed by Susy Puggioli, December 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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