Sunday, September 16, 2007

He Who Fears the Wolf

My reading has taken an unexpected (for me) twist in the last three weeks considering that I was completely unaware of Karin Fossum’s existence until mid-August. About that time, I read a review of the latest of her books to be published in the U.S., The Indian Bride, and was intrigued enough by the review to grab a copy of the book from my local library that same week. Now, just three weeks later, I’ve read all four the Fossum books that are available in this country, and I can’t wait for others to arrive.

He Who Fears the Wolf, like Fossum’s other Inspector Sejer mysteries, is perhaps more of a psychological thriller than it is a police procedural, and her work continues to remind me of British novelist Ruth Rendell. Fossum does the same remarkable job that Rendell does in creating unique, if deeply flawed, characters who often find themselves in desperate situations with no idea how they got there or what to do next.

When Inspector Konrad Sejer leaves home for the police station, he has no way of knowing that the two cases that will soon take over his life are developing while he walks along the downtown streets toward his desk. Already, a troubled young boy has rushed into another station to report the discovery of the body of an elderly murder victim and to say that he spotted an escaped mental patient on the property. And because he fails to follow his hunch about a suspicious looking man walking toward him and the bank that is just opening for business, Sejer narrowly misses stopping the bank robbery that he almost witnesses with his own eyes.

Not only is Sejer unhappy with himself for not acting on his hunch, he is embarrassed when his image appears on the bank’s surveillance tape walking out of the bank only seconds before the robbery happens. To make matters worse, the armed bank robber takes a hostage with him when he makes his escape. Sejer, who has been assigned to work both crimes, finds his investigations taking a bizarre twist when the tape reveals that the hostage taken in the bank is none other than the escaped mental patient he wants to question about that morning’s murder.

It may have been bad luck that caused the bank robber to choose an escaped mental patient for his hostage but his luck is going to have to change quickly if he is to survive that fateful choice. As the long day takes its course, both Inspector Sejer and the robber begin to wonder if the police will get to him in time to save him from his own hostage.

Karin Fossum serves up a surprisingly sympathetic cast of characters considering the mental instability of several of them, and she steadily turns up the pressure as her story winds down to its inevitable conclusion. But, as I’ve come to expect from her other Sejer mysteries, it is always wise to be prepared for one final surprise in the book’s final two or three pages. This one is no exception.

Rated at: 4.0

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