Tuesday, August 4, 2015

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In the Darkness

This is the novel in which Inspector Sejer makes his first tentative steps as a character into the world of criminal investigation so adroitly created by Karin Fossum. First published in Norwegian twenty years ago, there would be translations of later Fossum works before this one eventually went through the language grinder. 

Last year I read another of her novels in the Sejer series which I found compelling but it was not the first in the sequence. Without any sense of drama I knew what I had to do, return to the scene of the crime and get the Sejer provenance right. In The Darkness is not nearly as good as The Water’s Edge. The author, who had previously made her name as something of a poetry writer (bear in mind there are always more who write it than read it) is finding her feet in the world of the novel: character building, shielding the outcome, working with plots. The writing is not as crisp or as tight as it was in The Water's Edge.  Nonetheless it is a decent read for those aficionados of Scandicrime. Moreover, to her good, Fossum was published in English prior to the arrival of Stieg Larsson. The latter was a tide that raised many literary boats but she got there on her own ability. 

Fossum introduces the reader to Inspector Konrad Sejer in a police station when a distraught and injured woman arrives. So starts a long literary affair that has produced around a dozen novels thus far.

A woman out with her daughter observes a body floating in the canal and heads off to make a call. But for some reason not to the police, although she tells her daughter she has. 

When the body is eventually hauled from its watery grave it is soon established that the dead man had been missing for some months. He had gone off to sell his car to someone, the identity of whom nobody seems sure about, and had failed to return home. Close to where the dead man had lived was the scene of another murder inquiry, this time into the death of a missing sex worker. The proximity of one killing to the other puts them on Sejer’s watch. But is there a link?

Eva Magnus, the woman who found the body in the canal also happens to be a close acquaintance of the murdered sex worker, Maya Durban. Eva is an artist, divorced, and struggling to make ends meet. The suggestion by Maya that she should sell her body sends Eva into oscillation: the money seems good but prostitution seems a step too far. 

The reader wonders from the story if Sejer was planned to run for so long. He is not the most prominent character in the book but the guess is that the Norwegian crime fiction reading public liked the character sufficiently for his creator to continue on. Against that there are references to a future investigation that will produce another novel. So ...

Fossum writes in a non-judgemental way about those who commit crime, enticing the reader to look through the eyes of the perpetrator without ever trying to mitigate their actions. The black and white of good guys/bad guys is somewhat faded in her narrative. 

Camus once wrote that it is a form of spiritual snobbery for people to believe they can be happy without money. But what price happiness? The moral dilemma that flows from the pull of money makes its way into the conversation between Eva and her ailing father. People can find themselves pulled apart by genuine human weakness rather than intrinsic greed when drained by the endless battle to say clear of the poverty trap and find the easy solution in easy money beckoning them in.

What often seems a panacea ends up bringing more pain than gain. Eva Magnus can testify to that. 

Karin Fossum, 2012. In the Darkness. Harvill Secker. ISBN: 1846555256

2 comments :

marty said...

Havent read this but I will if for no other reason a cara than you have me addicted to Scandinavian crime novels,just starting The Inspector and Silence..

AM said...

Love them myself Marty - The Inspector And Silence is the first I have read by Nesser. Not as good as the others but readable.