Don't Look Back by
pbk out October 02
Is Norwegian the new Swedish? It could be if this, the precursor to one
or two Norwegian titles that will be published in the UK over the next
few months, is anything to go by.
But don’t expect fireworks. This is a quietly observant,
psychologically acute novel set in an isolated, fjordside Norwegian
community. It is based, in fact, on the village where Fossum herself
lives, and one of five such communities that fall within the
jurisdiction of her protagonist, Inspector Konrad Sejer.
A small girl is reported missing; Sejer investigates. But the girl, in
the company of Raymond, a local lad suffering from Down’s Syndrome,
quickly turns up – only to report that the body of another (older) girl
lies foetally at the water’s edge of a small lake some distance above
the village. The dead girl is Annie Holland,an outgoing teenager whose
behaviour had become more troubled in recent months. Is this change a
result of normal adolescent problems or does the reason lie in more
Sejer, in his fifth appearance (though the first to appear in the UK)
investigates with intelligence and delicacy. Note his deft handling of
the hysterical mother in the opening pages. Sejer’s team establish some
possible suspects from within the local community; for example Raymond,
the football coach with a rape conviction ( Annie was once an enthusiastic goal-keeper)
and Annie’s boyfriend Halvor. Sejer himself sets out on a
series of revealing interviews, beautifully realised and observed, with
both these suspects and Annie’s family itself, continually probing for
any hint of dysfunction that might hold the key to the mystery.
Herein lies the real strengh of the book. All of these characters are
explored in unusual depth, sometimes in circumstances outside the strict
confines of the story, giving them real humanity, and forcing us to
re-evaluate our prejudices. Fossum is excellent too on social dynamics:
a village under unprecedented stress, families struggling to come to
terms with loss.
This is an absorbing mystery, suspense nicely sustained, sometimes
philosophical in tone, and with a strangely disquieting ending. Well
worth your time.