Friday, September 07, 2007

When the Devil Holds the Candle

This third of Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer mysteries to be published in the United States takes the unusual approach of hardly mentioning Sejer at all for roughly the first third of the novel. Instead, Fossum places the reader into the minds and lives of the three people, be they criminals, victims, or both, who drive the plot of this stark psychological thriller.

Andreas Winther, a stunningly handsome 18-year old, is totally self-absorbed and is hiding what he considers to be a terrible secret even from the one friend he has. Zipp is that friend, and the two of them have come to depend on each other in a way that is far from healthy. Both boys still live at home with their mothers and, although he is unemployed, Zipp has a car that they can use to cruise around town looking for trouble. As long as Andreas is willing to share his wages with Zipp and they can borrow or steal a little extra cash on the side, they are happy enough with their lives. Irma Funder, a strangely eccentric elderly woman, realizes that she is "different" and works hard to appear normal to her neighbors and her few friends. It is when these three lives intersect one day that things come crashing down for all of them.

Nothing went right for Andreas and Zipp that day. Their mugging of a young mother pushing a baby carriage left them with only a small bit of cash and the knowledge that the runaway carriage had rolled downhill and roughly ejected the baby. A few minutes later, Andreas giving in to the temptation to reveal his secret to Zipp, was embarrassed by the horrified and disgusted reaction of his friend. When an elderly woman passed them on the street, Andreas decided that she offered him a chance to regain Zipp's respect, so he followed her to her home in order to rob her there.

What Andreas didn't expect was that he was dealing with someone even crazier than himself, someone who was willing to push him backward down the cellar stairs in order to defend herself. His underestimation of what the old woman was capable of left him lying at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck, unable to move his arms or legs, and at the mercy of a woman who decided that she liked having him down there.

Inspector Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skarre at first consider the purse snatching incident and the disappearance of someone like Andreas Winther to be, at most, petty crimes. They see no connection between the two incidents and only slowly come to realize that the old woman who has visited the police station, and called them at least one other time, might know something of the whereabouts of Andreas. But as they patiently push Zipp for some answers, things begin to make sense and it becomes a question of whether or not they will solve the crime in time to save Andreas' life.

Karin Fossum's combination of a police procedural and a psychological thriller works especially well because of the characters she has created on both ends of the spectrum. She manages to make even her most unlikable characters into sympathetic figures because of the insights she offers into what makes them the people that they are. And, at the same time, she continues to make the reader care about the personal lives of her two recurring characters, Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre. Fans of the Sejer series will enjoy this one, but it works equally well for readers unfamiliar with the other books in the series.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. This sounds like an intriguing book I might have to pick up. At least the little old lady didn't get her skull bashed in by the evildoers. That's a refreshing twist right there. There's a LOT of female death in books lately.

  2. I am personally very curious about the translation process that is used when bringing international literature to the US market. I do wish there was greater coverage of the individuals who do that work. Did your copy offer any information on the book jacket about the "silent partner" who did the translation?

  3. Good point, Carrie. This book is unusual in several ways...hope you enjoy it.

  4. Jill, the book jacket offers no information, but the book's title page does include: "Translated from the Norwegian by Felicity David."

    Felicity David has translated other of Fossum's Inspector Sejer books and her name sounds British to me. The books were published in the U.K. before reaching this country, so that makes some sense.

  5. Oh, I want to read this too, just to see a bad guy get what he deserves! I don't believe in "proportional response;" I believe in winning and preventing future problems response.

  6. In that case, you'll like this one, factotum. :-)