Scandinavian crime novels are in vogue right now. Perhaps this is in large part due to the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has drawn attention to Scandinavian authors…at least to American audiences. “Stark” and “bleak” have been used, in general, to describe the landscape of these authors’ works. Of course, the long winters and short days of Scandinavia, which surely seep into their fiction, might account for this.
Interestingly, mysteries seem to be a popular subject and several of these authors have been translated into English. This month–and in February, too–my mystery book group is sampling some of these Scandinanvian authors. First up: Karin Fossum.
Considered the “Norwegian Queen of Crime,” Karin Fossum writes the Inspector Konrad Sejer series, translated into 16 languages. The first book in the series, Eve’s Eye, is not yet available in English. The current title, The Water’s Edge, involves the death of a seven year-old boy. Witnesses report seeing a man limping away. Sejer embarks on an unsettling and unexpected investigation.
The Water’s Edge is mainly a police procedural–in the vein of the Inspector Morse series which it reminded me of–but there is more to it than that. Fossum explores the psyches of her characters. In many police procedurals, the witness or witnesses who find the body are often only in the story at the beginning and disappear from the plot. Not so here. The husband and wife are fully fleshed out characters who discover the body and continue to be featured in the rest of the narrative as their marriage slowly crumbles.
This book is chilling. And not just because it is mainly set in Norway’s winter months. Crimes against or involving children can be very difficult to read. Many mystery authors shy away from such crimes. So it is interesting to read Fossum’s The Water’s Edge. She doesn’t dwell overly much on salacious or graphic images to tell the story, but the tragedy of it all certainly hits home. Seeing how the characters in the story deal with the crime was marvelously written.
Some reviews and comments I’ve encountered have suggested this particular story could just as easily take place in Minnesota or the Dakotas. That’s partially true. The story takes place in small town/rural areas which don’t necessarily lend themselves to specific descriptions that shout, “This setting is Norway!” Also, making the connection to the American midwest is an interesting one, since historically many Scandinavian immigrants settled in Minnesota and neighboring states. Still, this should not detract from what is a solidly written story. Except perhaps for the prologue which failed to draw me into the story and I felt was extraneous.
The Water’s Edge might not be for everyone, but it encourages me to try more of Fossum’s books and other Scandinavian mystery authors.