Review: Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

Title: Don’t Look Back [the second Inspector Sejer novel although the first in the series available in English]

don't look backAuthor: Karin Fossum [Translated by Felicity David]

Publisher: Harcourt Books [2002]

ISBN: 978-0-015-603136-3

Length: 295 pages

Genre: Police Procedural

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating: 5/5

One-liner: Thoughtful, captivating and very, very readable.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

In a small Norwegian village the near-naked body of a teenage girl is found at the lake. Once they identify her as Annie Holland Inspector Konrad Sejer and Officer Jacob Skarre learn that everyone liked the athletic young girl who babysat for most of the village’s children although many people mention the change in her behaviour some months before her death. Having precious little in the way of evidence they have to determine whether it was just a normal part of growing up or whether there an event in her life that may have had something to do with her death.

I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for over a year and it may have continued to languish there among all the others but for this week’s crime fiction alphabet post by Maxine at Petrona. What struck me particularly was a quote from Fossum about being interested in “‘the good guy who does something evil’ rather than the bogeyman.” Although I have read my share of rampaging serial killer books I generally don’t find them as satisfying as those that explore the circumstances and motivations behind ordinary people reaching some kind of breaking point and so was keen to get stuck into the first Inspector Sejer book translated into English.

I knew absolutely nothing about the story when I started reading (I deliberately didn’t look at the blurb) and was hooked by the twist in the opening. As the book started I thought it was going to be about one sort of crime and just as I geared myself up for that it turned into something completely different. From then on the story was pieced together like an intricate jigsaw with many pieces needing to be turned this way and that before slotting into place to help reveal the whole picture. Without car chases or guns blazing the story managed to be suspense-filled and captivating from beginning to end as Sejer and Skarre teased out important details about village life from its inhabitants

Fossum builds up her characters in a similar way as she does the plot: slowly revealing their secrets, pasts and fears over the course of the book. As you’d expect with the main characters we develop a fairly clear picture of Sejer and Skarre over the course of the novel but the minor characters too are equally well depicted, even if only in one aspect of their lives. Annie’s father’s conversation with the man in charge of the crematorium is one of the most beautiful depictions of a grieving father I have read.

Don’t Look Back has all the things I love most in crime fiction: interesting, believable characters, a puzzle-like plot, a setting I can get lost in and a tangible credibility that sometime somewhere that exact scenario has played itself out in reality. Or will one day.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Don’t Look Back has been reviewed at Reading Matters and Thoughts of Joy

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4 Responses to Review: Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

  1. Bernadette – You think exactly the way that I do; I really like puzzle-like plots, and to me, believable characters are essential. So’s a believable plot. If I can’t imagine it happening, it’s hard for me to get lost in the story. This sounds like a real winner.


  2. Karen M says:

    That scene stuck with me too. Great review. Hope you carry on with the series. Calling Out For You is possibly even better.


  3. Maxine says:

    So glad you enjoyed this book, Bernadette. I read it almost by chance when it was first published over here (UK), as I was then in a book club and it was the month’s recommendation. They probably likened it to Henning Mankell, whom I’d read. Of course, this was well before I joined the online reading world!

    I very much enjoyed reading your review, which reminded me of the book and why I liked it. I hope you enjoy her other ones; some of them are very dark indeed but I have enjoyed them all.


  4. Jamil says:

    i just finished reading the book and it was great and all, but i didn’t really understand who the murderer was? can anyone tell me?


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