It is generally agreed that the worst thing that can happen to anyone is to lose a child. This is the premise of Karin Fossum's excellent new novel, BLACK SECONDS. Small and unpretentious in scale yet deep in meaning, as is usual with Fossum's books, the story begins when nine-year-old Ida Joner goes missing on her way to buy a comic and some sweets at the local newsagent. Helga, her distraught mother, reports her missing, but the girl seems to have vanished without a trace.
Inspector Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skarre, familiar from previous books, investigate the disappearance. They have little to go on, however, as nobody seems to have seen the girl while she was on her errand, and a search of the area by local volunteers reveals no clues.
As the days go by with no news of Ida, we see the effects of the disappearance on her parents, on Helga's sister Ruth and her family, and on Emil Johannes, a rather simple local character with an overbearing mother. Worry, guilt and fear affect this small cast of characters, invading every aspect of their lives and corroding relationships. The partnership between Sejer and Skarre is sparse yet charming, each man with his own strength, with a mutual respect leading to an attractive and fruitful partnership. Neither man is prepared to "let things go", so the reader is sure that, however long it takes, the detectives will solve the crime and see that justice is done.
It isn't that difficult to guess at how Ida vanished, given the clues provided at the start of the book, although there are several unpredictable twists and turns along the way. In particular there is a moving little sub-plot involving a nightdress which speaks volumes about the person concerned. But the "whodunit" aspect isn't the main point of Fossum's account – the events she describes in this slow burn of a book allow us to see how a small, focused cast of characters think, feel and live against a background of increasing suspense and dread. The writing and the translation (by Charlotte Barslund) are excellent. Karin Fossum's last book, CALLING OUT FOR YOU, was shortlisted for the CWA dagger in 2006. If possible, BLACK SECONDS is even better.