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When the Devil Holds the Candle (Inspector Sejer Mysteries, Book 4) Hardcover – July 3, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Skillful characterization and revealing detail lift Fossum's third mystery to be published in the U.S. featuring thoughtful, intelligent Insp. Konrad Sejer (after 2005's He Who Fears the Wolf). Handsome Andreas Winther, a self-absorbed, dangerously restless 18-year-old, manages to draw both sympathy and disgust from the reader. He roams the streets of an unnamed provincial Norwegian town in the evenings, accompanied by his socially inept friend, Sivert "Zipp" Skorpe, and fueled by the enormity of a secret he keeps. One evening, after mugging a young mother, Andreas decides to break into an old woman's house to rob her. His intended victim, Irma Funder, has a complicated health situation and a more complicated psyche. In defending herself, Irma pushes Andreas down the cellar stairs, where he lands unnaturally twisted, unable to move but alive. What develops between the immobile boy and the reclusive woman is a bizarre, excruciating, curiously tender relationship that serves as a pathetic and poignant balance to the hunt for Andreas conducted by Sejer and his police colleague, Jacob Skarre. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Fossum's Konrad Sejer procedurals, set in Oslo, are among the many Scandinavian mysteries that have followed Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series to the U.S. Her first novel to appear here, Don't Look Back (2004), was very much in the world-weary Wallander mold, with Sejer investigating a 15-year-old girl's murder and finding multiple layers of ambiguity. Although Sejer is present again this time, the story is much less like a contemporary European procedural and more like a Ruth Rendell psychological thriller. As Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skarre investigate a mugging and the disappearance of a delinquent, the reader sees what the coppers don't, following the tragic events in the life of the delinquent and the very disturbed elderly woman he encounters. At times this story is almost unendurably painful, as our sense of the inevitable clashes with our uncertainty about the outcome. All of the characters are victims of a kind, and all are trapped in one way or another. We feel equally trapped, by our proximity to so many lives gone wrong, and by our inability to close the book. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Andreas Winther is an aimless eighteen-year old, a not uncommon slacker holding down a minimum wage job while flirting with the mildest fringes of crime. Irma Funder is 60ish, a mostly reclusive divorcé with a semi-estranged adult son and memories of a childhood of benign neglect. A young mother walks her four-month old child along Oslo's beach. Guided by Fossum's talented hand, the unlikely crossing of these dissimilar lives makes for an explosive literary feast of suspense and depravity, a novel so rich in conflicting themes, sinister undercurrent, and depth of character that it nearly bursts out of the mere 259 pages that try to confine it. This is a masterpiece of darkness, a somber and psychologically chilling tale that leaves no winners as it takes twists and turns to its unexpected and powerful conclusion.
Drawing parallels to this author's work is mostly futile. Sure, the fatalistic tone recalls Arnaldur Indridason or Jo Nesbo, but living in a cold, damp place with no sun for half of the year probably makes it hard to write like say, Carl Hiaasen. Fossum's plots are fresh and unexpected, her villains unlikely, her settings surrealistic, even haunting. Where most writers deal in blacks and whites and good vs. evil that lead to a clean finish, Karin Fossum's mastery stems from her rich ambiguity. Where most authors cast their protagonist in the central role, spinning the story around their whims and deductions and forensic brilliance, Fossum's inspector Sejer is nearly an observer, a keen but detached bystander who never seems fully engaged with the crime at hand.
So if you're looking for a different path - intelligent fiction that will prod and pester and make you want to put your life on hold until you're forced to finish, then you've got to meet Karin Fossum. But a word of warning - don't expect relief when it's finally placed on the bookshelf. Fossum's prose will continue to haunt long after you've turned the last page.
This is a fresh approach to police procedurals where we actually know the facts of the crimes quite early in the book. The journey we take is in discovering the twists of history and fate that put the main characters into a collision course with each other. It is also an incisive commentary on the narrow boundaries between idle youth/criminal behavior, and isolation/insanity. Irma is a strange and solitary older lady like anyone we might see and ignore on our city streets. She is beneath notice. But she harbors powerful and disturbing insights. Andreas and Zipp are, respectively, formless and gormless youth, but they are capable of far-reaching damage due to their short-focus selfishness. These three end up in a desperate synergy that moves like a runaway train and takes strangers, friends, family, and the police along with them. And Fossum continues to develop Inspector Sejer and his colleagues and family in ways that benefit the story without competing with the action. I look forward to the next installment.
P.S. Notice should be given to the excellent work of the translator, Felicity David.
Meanwhile the reader knows just where Andreas is, because his captor is telling us all about it, alternately with the narration of the police investigation. It's not the mystery that keeps us reading, but the anguish and perplexity of all the players.
If you've ever wondered why so many young men drink too much and do stupid, violent, irresponsible things, you'll find this book an interesting window into that scary universe of out-of-control teenage males. For Andreas and his friend Zipp, an unplanned evening of purse snatching leads to horrific consequences.
The book has a few too many coincidences for my taste. Cops, crazies and criminals all seem to know each other or happen upon each other by accident. Can Oslo be this small? But there's a momentum to the storytelling that kept me hooked anyway.
IInspector Sejer seems to be a man of steel with emotions kept strictly in check. His gray eyes like lead crystal make the guilty sweat. But self-disciplined as he is, Sejer has his struggles: from dealing with his mother's death to coping with his rather hedonistic girlfriend.
So far my favorite Fossum novel is The Indian Bride, but I did like this book, and I'll no doubt be reading more by Norway's "Queen of Crime."