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.

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16 thoughts on “Book review: Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

  1. Maxine – Thanks, as always, for this review. Downbeat stories are often not written well, so that one gets too much depression and not enough real story, but this one seems to have a really solid story, too. I need to read some Fossum…

  2. I admit I am trying to read non gloomy and depressing books just now so I’ll stay away from this one for now. There are times when that kind of thing doesn’t affect me and times when I quite like wallowing in gloom but just now is not one of those times.

  3. Maxine– I think one can go overboard on the gloomy and depressing factors
    in Fossum’s books–as there is always an element of decency to counter-balance
    this-Amongst other means –embodied in Inspector Seger .

  4. Like Bernadette, I prefer something lighter right now, but this one didn´t get to me in the way some novels do. I think it is partly because it *begins* with the drowning so we know the worst and get some kind of satisfaction in the end.

  5. Interesting point, Simon. Altough Sejer is a warm and interesting character, there is never enough of him in the books…his life was described more in the earlier books, but in the later ones, barely at all. My overwhelming feeling on reading Fossum’s books is one of sadness. I like that, actually, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (By the way, Sejer was having a relationship with a psychiatrist in an earlier novel, I recall. I wonder what happened there? He’s on the same track in this novel.)

  6. What is your thought about Nesbo? (My plans to read in next few months from Nordic noir are: “The Darkest Room,” “Roseanna,” “A Mind’s Eye” (thanks to you and Bernadette’s reviews) and “The Redbreast,” in addition to other global and some U.S. books.)

  7. Nesbo writes exciting thrillers with intelligent plots – you really have to pay attention. However, they are very long and quite violent, in a way I don’t like. Nesbo’s books are more like thrillers than any of the other authors you mention in your comment above. The best thing about them is his detective, Harry Hole, who is great.

  8. Okay, a good warning about Nesbo’s writings. I can skip violent scenes; it’s how I read some books, even the “Dragon” trilogy and definitely the first movie, learned to appreciate fast-forward in the remote.

  9. I like the character of Jacob Skarre, but his presence in the books, particularly the newest novels (The Water’s Edge, Black Seconds), is limited. In WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS THE CANDLE, Fossum hints at Skarre’s sexuality, and that he might be gay. But nowhere in subsequent outings does Fossum follow up on the idea. My only quip with the series is that the progtagonists’ private lives are rarely talked about. I am discouraged. How does Fossum sketch Jacob Skarres’ character in BAD INTENTIONS?

  10. Skarre does appear in this novel, Jake, but only briefly. There is another one of Fossum’s books in which Skarre is attacked at the end, and we are left on a bit of a cliffhanger about whether he’ll survive. But in the next novel, this is not even referred to. (But from what recall, this novel puts paid to the idea that Skarre is gay.) Probably this is mainly due to the annoying way in which the series has been translated out of order. But partly, Fossum is not that interested in writing detective stories involving policemen, she’s said, compared with her psychological portraits.

  11. Thanks, Maxine. By the way, do you know when BAD INTENTIONS will be available in the States? Amazon.com has the book available for pre-order, but there is no release date.

  12. Sorry, Jake, I don’t know – maybe try the US publisher website (assuming it is listed at Amazon) or the author’s website? According to fantastic fiction website, the HB is out in July 2010 and the PB August 2011 in the USA, though I have no idea if that is accurate.

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