Friday, September 20, 2019

Review of Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum (1996, Swedish; 2003 English; Vintage)

Six year old Ragnhild is walking home in a small village where everybody seems to know everybody else when a van stops and the driver offers her a lift. At first unsure, she decides to climb into the van. Six hours later, her mother is frantic and half the local community are out searching. What they discover, however, is the naked body of a teenage girl near to a local tarn. Chief Inspector Sejer begins an investigation with Skarre, a younger cop working his first murder. Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about Annie Holland, though they acknowledge that she had changed over the last few months, becoming withdrawn, leaving the local handball team, and running for miles. Sejer and Skarre systematic work their way through interviewing all the local families, but there are few leads. The more they hunt, the more they discover about the lives of inhabitants and their various tragedies – family disputes and untimely deaths – but they don’t seem to warrant the death of Annie.

Don’t Look Back is the second book in the Inspector Sejer series set in rural Norway. In this outing, Sejer starts by investigating the disappearance of a six year old girl, but soon finds himself in charge of a murder investigation. Annie Holland was a fit fifteen year old, obsessed with running, who had become withdrawn over the past few months and was in an on-off relationship with her boyfriend. She was well liked by neighbours and had baby sat for almost every family on her road. Everyone seems surprised when she is found lying naked next to a tarn having been drowned. Fossum charts Sejer’s investigation as he and his younger sidekick, Skarre, try to unearth clues that will lead to her killer. As with Sjowall and Wahloo’s Beck series, there is an everyday realism to the investigation, setting out the patient, persistent footwork without melodrama or invented tension. The characters all feel real, living ordinary lives tainted by the various issues they have to face. Fossum does a nice job of keeping the story moving with engaging prose and manoeuvring various characters into and out of frame. Even to the last part of the book I was unsure who the murderer was and the story builds to a satisfying denouement.

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