Book review: Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Fossum Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barslund.
Publisher, Harvill Secker.

Bad Intentions is an extremely bleak anatomy of the aftermath of a death. Three friends, Axel, Philip and Jon, are spending the weekend at a cabin on the shores of Dead Water lake. They decide to go out for a midnight boat trip, and while out on the water one of them steps over the side and drowns. Was it an accident, suicide or murder? We don’t really know, but the two survivors agree not to call for help until the morning, in the meantime concocting a plan to present the event in a way most flattering to themselves.

Karin Fossum tells of the fallout with her characteristic calmness, clarity and without judging her characters. The three young men all grew up together in the same Norwegian village. One is a commercially successful advertising executive, another is a drop out who is constantly high from drugs, and the third is in a mental hospital after suffering a breakdown. The reader gradually learns more about all three of them, partly through flashbacks to their childhood, partly through the two survivors’ feelings and actions since the death of their friend, and partly via the police investigation into the death, headed by Inspector Seger, who is fleshed out a little here as a character compared with his last outing. 

There were, for me, no surprises in this book, but I enjoyed seeing how the tale unfolded and experiencing the perspectives of the various characters. The novel is very sad: the mother and girlfriend of the dead youth are both movingly depicted. Although the sudden close friendship of the mother with another woman seemed a bit unlikely, it does add a little glimmer of a positive spirit to what is a pretty downbeat story, albeit with a strong dash of poetic justice at the end.  

Karin Fossum writes such telling mini-fables about the issues surrounding depression and despair. I very much enjoy her books, but they are certainly not exciting or uplifting. Her world is a gloomy one.

Other reviews of this novel are at: Euro Crime (by Karen Meek), Booktrust Translated Fiction, The Independent (by Barry Forshaw) and  Nordic Bookblog.

Reviews of Karin Fossum's earlier novels can be read at Euro Crime.