Although I am a devotee of Nordic noir, this is the first
book by the Norwegian writer Karin Fossum that I have read – and quickly
realised how much I had been missing. This is a quite short but extremely powerful novel.
Fossum's protagonist in this series is Chief Inspector Sejer
of the Sondre Buskerud police district – a widower in his fifties. Recently he has suffered from a series of
severe dizzy attacks, but so far, despite the urgent entreaties of his daughter,
he has not consulted a doctor.
His colleague, Jacob Skarre, brings him a new case. A sixteen-month-old boy has been drowned in a
pond in his own garden. The forensics
team are at the scene and the teenage parents are at the station. The young mother is hysterical and the father
utterly silent. Sejer and Skarre first
go to the home to inspect the naked little body, and Sejer quickly realises
that the child had Down's syndrome.
Sejer interviews the parents. The father, Nicolai, can scarcely utter a
word and is completely overcome with grief. The mother, Carmen, in floods of tears, tells a somewhat incoherent
story. The little boy, Tommy, had only
just learned to walk. She had given him
a bath, and because the day was so hot – Norway is experiencing a severe
heatwave – had left him unclothed while she prepared the evening meal. She was suddenly aware that he was no longer
in the kitchen. Immediately thinking of
the pond, she rushed into the garden and discovered him lying at the bottom of
the pond beside the jetty. Her screams
brought Nicolai out from the cellar, where he was repairing a bike (his
favourite occupation). They tried in
vain to resuscitate Tommy, having called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived quickly but were also
This is a tightly controlled story, with a small cast of
characters – the two policemen, the young couple and her parents, who are well
off and run a successful restaurant in the town, providing most of the
action. From the start, Sejer recognises
that Carmen is wilful and utterly spoilt, and is convinced that she is not
telling the truth.
The in-depth character studies and their psychology are
completely engrossing. Running alongside
is Sejer's awareness that his own mortality might be approaching, as his dizzy
attacks continue. There are serious
moral issues addressed for all the main characters. A thoroughly satisfactory novel.