It is a few years since I have read a book by Karin Fossum, so I have missed out a couple of episodes in the life and career of Inspector Sejer. Having read this excellent study in miniature, I can't understand why I left it so long.
The book starts with an initially uplifting but tragically sad story of the events that transpire when the rather simple Gunder Jomann, a middle-aged bachelor in a remote Norwegian village, decides to go on holiday to India to find a wife. The first part of the book describes these events as a fable, and is remarkably moving. The author is truly gifted at making the reader care about her apparently unremarkable and certainly unglamorous characters.
After the crime has been committed, Sejer and his colleague Skarre are called in. They eventually piece together the story that the reader knows from the first few chapters, and the story becomes one of narrowing down the suspects from the village community and trying to obtain a confession from the chief suspect. But how reliable is the main witness, a teenage girl who craves attention and who develops an unhealthy crush on Skarre (left on an unresolved cliffhanger at the end of the book)?
Apart from the touching story of the romance between Gunder and his Indian bride, the main strength of this book is the description of the culture of the village, with its air of mutual suspicion and small-mindedness, of fear, and of people not wishing to be involved in other people's business at almost any cost. Bored teenagers, unsuccessful businesses, failed marriages, all play their part in the unfolding story of the events that led up to the initial murder. The claustrophobic atmosphere gradually closes in on the reader, and the final twist provides a genuine shiver down the spine.
Karin Fossum and her translator Charlotte Barslund have done an excellent job in presenting telling character sketches and build up the suspense in a chilling novel – all without any need for special effects, additional murders or other dramatics. A very impressive achievement. One of the best crime novels of its year, undoubtedly.