Alphabet in crime fiction: Fossum

11971187771524222842Chrisdesign_Effect_Letters_alphabet_silver_6_svg_med Karin Fossum is one of my favourite authors. I read her first translated novel, Don't Look Back (winner of the Glass Key award), when it was first translated into English about seven years ago, and have enjoyed all her novels since then. I've reviewed Calling out for You (also called The Indian Bride, and shortlisted for the Gold Dagger in 2005), Black Seconds, The Water's Edge (all 'Inspector Sejer' novels) and Broken for Euro Crime. The first two or three of Fossum's novels were translated by Felicity David (Tiina Nunnally) and the rest by Charlotte Barslund, in both cases very sympathetically, I am sure preserving that delicate yet cold sense from the original Norwegian.

The Times made Karin Fossum number 27 in their list of 50 "greatest" crime writers, saying: "The Sejer novels typically feature dark secrets in small, often isolated, communities with the detective's own melancholy personality augmenting Fossum's sound grip on criminal psychology and willingness to question perceptions of normality."

Earlier this year, The Independent ran a very good interview of Karin Fossum by Christian House, from which I quote: "Bizarrely for one of Europe's most celebrated crime writers, Fossum doesn't consider herself a great purveyor of her genre. "I'm not a good crime writer. I'm not good with plots… so I have to do something else." Her alternative is to concentrate on the yearnings of life's also-rans, and how fragile minds fracture when seclusion or routine is disturbed. This is when anomalies occur. Fossum describes it as a fascination with "the tragedy, the drama, the sadness" of such events. She is interested in "the good guy who does something evil" rather than the bogeyman. The former, she believes, is "much more frightening". There remains an underlying optimism to Fossum's stories, I suggest. "I hope so," she says, "but I suppose I'm a melancholic person." "

Those of us lucky enough to be at CrimeFest in 2008 were able to attend a fascinating interview of this author by Ann Cleeves, which was a highlight of the festival for me, particularly Fossum's chilling story of a roadside death which she told an entranced audience.

In her last-but-one book, Broken, Karin Fossum moved away from her pragmatic, spare Sejer series and wrote an existential, magical novel, in which one of an author's future characters jumps the queue and forces his way into a novel. The interactions between this character and the shadowy author form an unearthly context for the more down-to-earth events of the novel. This move into the inexplicable is what made me find some similarities in mood and message between Fossum and Ninni Holmqvist, author of The Unit, a novel which I highly recommend. Another author who shares some similarities with Fossum is Fred Vargas, not in terms of passion or impulse or plot, but in terms of the novel-as-fable.

Previous posts in the crime-fiction alphabet series.

Mysteries in Paradise: home of the crime-fiction alphabet.


7 thoughts on “Alphabet in crime fiction: Fossum

  1. She is another author I have on my ‘to read’ list but fortunately I have managed to mooch a copy of Don’t Look Back so I will shortly be able to see for myself what all the fuss is about.

  2. Are you just going to do names for the letters, Maxine, or themes and topics too? Are there that many crime writers to cover the whole alphabet, I wonder…maybe there are.

  3. Well, I’m being typically boring about this alphabet, Clare, and just plugging through the authors, but some others doing it are being much more imaginative. Bernadette (comment above yours) is doing one-title books, which is some challenge! If you go to the Mysteries in Paradise link in my post, you can see the other blogs that are participating and what they’re doing with the idea.
    And Bernadette – looking forward to reading your review of Fossum, eventually. At least her books are short!

  4. Maxine – I’m with Bernadette; I’m really interested in Fossum, but haven’t had a chance to read her work yet. Your endorsement is enough to make me actively look to get some of books!

  5. Thanks for doing Fossum Maxine. She is an author I like very much but I’m not sure what I thought of BROKEN. I lent it to an academic friend who complained it “did her head in”.
    I keep wondering what we’ll do when we get through the alphabet!

  6. I’ve read all of Fossum’s mysteries and have enjoyed them – which surprises me as I don’t like to read a lot of gritty mysteries. Hers are just so great, though.
    And I just had to comment because I finished Broken tonight and thought it was fantastic. I agree with your assessment (and thanks for the readalike suggestions). I think it is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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