Review: IN THE DARKNESS by Karin Fossum

This book tells two stories really. The first involves the discovery of the body of a man who has been missing for some months. Because the body is found in a river and due to the delay in finding it Sejer and his colleagues have little in the way of evidence or reliable witness statements to go on but they doggedly pursue the investigation. The second story is that of the person who was responsible for the man’s murder. The fact this culprit is revealed about half-way through the book but does not result in a lessening of suspense is a sign of Fossum’s superior writing talents. In a skilled kind of misdirection she makes the reader forget they now know who committed the crime and that, theoretically at least, there are no more secrets to reveal. Because there is suddenly the more interesting question of ‘why’ to be answered and Fossum does this by exploring the culprit’s past and inner life in an engaging way, ensuring resolution is not entirely comfortable for either Sejer or the reader.

It is due to the vagaries of the publishing industry, particularly with respect to the order in which foreign language series are translated into English, that I read the tenth novel in this series, THE CALLER, earlier this year while this first book of the series,published in its original Norwegian in 1995, has only just been released in English. However I found IN THE DARKNESS to be a very accomplished novel, regardless of the fact it is a début, and I enjoyed comparing the beginning of the series with the most recent work while my ailing memory could remember both. The biggest difference is, I think, that IN THE DARKNESS is more of a traditional police procedural than the latest novel in the series, though I wonder if I’d have noticed this if I’d read more of the intervening titles. But even here Fossum’s interest in and empathy for the people who commit crimes as well as those who solve them is plain to see.

The characters are thoughtfully drawn. Konrad Sejer is somewhat gently introduced as a middle-aged widower with an adult daughter whose son was adopted while she and her husband lived in Africa. The depth of his personality is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that his hobby is parachute jumping but only when the weather conditions are absolutely perfect. This defines a sort of deliberate cautiousness that seems to sneak into his approach to his work too. Although obviously responsible for upholding the law he is shown to have a capacity to see the other side of things and understand, if not condone, the actions led to the crimes committed here.

The culprit too is a nicely rounded character whom we see first as a normal participant in day-to-day life with the same struggles to be a good parent and caring child looking after an elderly father. When this character’s culpability becomes obvious and we are told the series of events which led to the point of murder it becomes much more difficult to see the horrid crime in the purely black and white terms of right and wrong. I’m always impressed when an author can achieve this, almost without me noticing.

In some ways I’m quite happy that I’ve still got quite a few of Fossum’s novels left to read (in completely the wrong order now) because she really is a terrific writer. I enjoy the unpredictable road she takes with her stories and the fact that although she shows an empathy for the perpetrators of crimes she doesn’t condescend to those characters or her readers along the way. And perhaps the thing I like best is that the thoughts and issues raised by this book, like the two others of hers that I’ve read, have continued to play across my mind long after I finished it.

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IN THE DARKNESS has been reviewed at Euro Crime and Petrona and a new to me blog called Finnish and Scandinavian Review (by a Finnish author living in England)

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My rating 4/5
Narrator David Rintoul
Translator James Anderson
Publisher Random House Audiobooks [2012]
Length 8 hours 49 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Inspector Sejer series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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3 Responses to Review: IN THE DARKNESS by Karin Fossum

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – I’ll confess I only briefly skimmed your review, which I usually don’t do. But in this case, The Caller is close to the top of my TBR list. I’ve not read it quite yet and I want to do so before looking at others’ reviews. But I read enough of your review to know it’s superb as ever. Karin Fossum is such a talent isn’t she?


  2. Maxine says:

    Great review, Bernadette, as well as an insightful analysis of what makes this author one of the best exponents of the “crime” genre – the “why” gradually sneaks up on you. I have read them out of order, too, but as you write it does not seem to matter too much — though I don’t remember Sejer going parachute jumping in later novels! (Could be just my memory). I found In The Darkness to be quite haunting, I did not like the character of the mother/artist too much at the start but the author gradually made me sympathise with her. I particularly liked her relationship with her father (and the portrayal of Sejer as a father and widower).


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