Written by Karin Fossum — The English translation of In the Darkness has been highly anticipated by those following the popular Inspector Sejer series, created by Norway’s Karin Fossum – sometimes called ‘the queen of crime’. In her native language, it was the first book to feature Sejer, but curiously it’s one of the last to be translated into English.
The book opens ominously. Eva Magnus and her seven-year-old daughter Emma are walking along the lake in a park when the girl notices a body floating in the water. Eva, who is an artist and a single mother, already seems distracted when she heads for the nearest payphone, presumably to call the police. Instead she makes a rather mundane call to her father, and then, oddly enough, whisks her daughter off to McDonalds as if nothing happened. The reason for her behavior forms the core of a complex mystery, as we learn the nature of her connection to the body they saw in the lake, which is in a small Norwegian town.
After someone else reports the body, Inspector Sejer is called to the scene. He soon realises it was murder, and an excessively violent one. This is a busy time for his investigative team, as they are also investigating the death of a known prostitute – Maja Durban. When the dead man is identified as Egil Einarsson, who was reported missing shortly after the prostitute’s death, Sejer suspects a connection between the murders. During his investigation he befriends the teenage son of the dead man and their interactions form the few tender moments in the book that reveal the compassionate nature of Sejer which fuels his police work.
Sejer’s investigations leads us back to Eva and her strange reaction to the corpse, as well as a mysterious note left by the dead man. This, and other threads of inquiry, keep sending Sejer back to Eva and he eventually brings her in for questioning. What follows then is a major shift in the narrative. The events leading up to the murder begin to unfold and take up the majority of the book. This section of In the Darkness is quite riveting, and explores themes that recur throughout the Inspector Sejer series. One of these themes is that given the right (or wrong) setting and circumstances we might all be capable of criminal acts, even murder. This question is raised by the author, through Sejer, with thoughtfulness, intelligence, and compassion.
Sejer’s cool and collected demeanor sets the tone, but the main body of the narrative can definitely be categorised as thriller, seething with fear, murder, and desperation. Even when the story behind the murder is complete and we are brought back back to the present investigation, you’re still in for a final ride as Sejer slots the final pieces of the puzzle into place.
If you’re coming to In the Darkness after reading all the other Inspector Sejer books, you should be very pleased. This is not only an introduction to Sejer and his team, but a solid piece of crime fiction that relies less on gore and forensics than on trenchant insight into the primal act of murder, and its devastating consequences. It also introduces another observation that Fossum makes in her books: even when a case is solved, there are no winners. Highly recommended for Scandinavian crime fiction enthusiasts, or mystery lovers who like psychological depth in their reading.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars