Book review: In the Darkness by Karin Fossum

In the Darkness
by Karin Fossum
translated by James Anderson
Harvill Secker/Vintage, 2012
first published in Norway in 1995
Inspector Konrad Sejer #1

The opportunity to read Karin Fossum’s first novel in her series about Inspector Sejer is very welcome. Originally published in 1995, In The Darkness already contains all the elements that are familiar to readers of this excellent Norwegian novelist. As with the second couple of novels (chronologically), there is more about Sejer as a character, and about the police team, than there is in more “fabular”, abstract, recent books in the series.

The tale here, as readers familiar with Fossum will expect, is deceptively simple: Eva and her six-year-old daughter Emma discover the body of a man in the river one night. Although Eva tells her daughter she has called the police, in fact she has not. Later, however, another person reports seeing the body, and so Inspector Sejer awards himself the case.

In his characteristic laid-back but observant style, Sejer has befriended the widow and young son of the dead man, who has been missing for six months. Unable to progress, but now knowing he has a murder case on his hands, he decides to look into the only other case of unnatural death that has been reported to the police in the past year. Sejer’s slow but methodical investigation gradually brings to light some small clues that he can follow up. Whether or not the two cases are linked becomes gradually clear to the reader, but the author keeps some surprises up her sleeve.

The book is in two halves: the first half tells the story of the investigation and of Eva’s life from the point of discovery of the man’s body; the second is from Eva’s perspective of previous events, providing a rich psychological portrait of a woman struggling to make ends meet without compromising her artistic integrity, and retain her sanity, in the wake of a divorce and some very stressful life-events. The details of small-town life, together with the touching portrait of two lonely widowers (Sejer and Eva’s father) adjusting to a solitary existence, are very moving and beautifully observed. The book is not without humour, particularly in a scene about an unconventional hiding place Eva is forced to use, which will be familiar to readers of Headhunters (written much later) by Jo Nesbo, another Norwegian crime author.

The author wastes no words in telling her tightly plotted story with its hidden depths, ensuring that the reader will be haunted by it, and Eva’s struggles in particular, for some time after finishing it.

I obtained this book from Amazon Vine.

Other reviews of In The Darkness: Euro Crime (Karen Meek), Irish Independent, Finnish and Scandinavian Review.

Euro Crime: The Inspector Sejer series in order, with links to reviews.

23 thoughts on “Book review: In the Darkness by Karin Fossum

  1. I have been sent this book and I’m looking forward to reading it as I am completely new to Karen Fossum even though I have heard a lot about her. Usually I try and work out where I need to start in a series but as I have this book I intend to start with this one. I think that given the books have been translated out of order it’s a good place to start as any. I’ve skimmed your review Maxine which sounds very positive and I’ll come back to it when I’ve read the book.

  2. I have just finished this one myself and (perhaps not surprisingly) my review will be similar to yours when I finish it – it’s only my third of Fossum’s novels but I liked it a lot – but like you I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in Norway are hiding in that particular place!

    I really liked the character portraits – Sejer and Eva particularly

    • The hiding place is funny given that there is a sticker on this book quoting Jo Nesbo saying it’s good – wonder if that’s where he got his idea from?! I liked the characters of Sejer and Eva too, and also Eva’s father.

  3. Maxine – I’m so glad you liked this one! I’ve not read it yet as it’s just this week come out in the US. I very much like Fossum’s work, and you make a very well-taken point about her earlier novels having a bit more focus on the police team and the work they do. I am really eager to read this and please, please don’t get me started on why the first one in this series is only just available now in English…*sigh*

  4. This sounds great, Maxine. Am looking forward to reading it myself very soon — I have a copy lying in wait.

    • Look forward to your review, Kim – really liked your review of The Caller yesterday (or the day before).

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  6. Good review. I’ll put this on my TBR list (sigh) and hope to read it sometime in this decade.
    However, I am reading Anne Holt’s Blind Goddess and am pleasantly surprised at how good it is and how well-written it is, characters, plot and more. It is kind of amazing to read the last book in a series and then go back and read the first(!) I know this is a topic of much discussion.
    I feel like I’m reading about parallel universes here. I hope that the other books are translated soon, published and available over here.
    I concur with your sentiment about wanting to find out how Hanne Willhelmson goes from being a hopeful, pleasant, even cheerful woman to a bitter, angry and anti-social one. Yet, she still retains her incisive mind and powers of logic and deduction … lucky for us.

  7. Never read this author Maxine but this first book sounds pretty good – thanks very much for the nudge as I’ll see aboiut getting myself a copy.



  8. Sounds good, I have been meaning to check something of Fossum’s for a while, i have just ended a what seems like Scandinavian-noir read-athon with Jo Nesbo, Asa Larsson and Camilla Lackberg, but I will have to add this one to the list …maybe something without the snow first!!

    • Sounds a good burst of Scandi! Asa Larsson is one of my very favourites. Have you tried Karin Altvegen (eg Missing) or Arnaldur Indridason?

  9. What is it with Scandi authors? I wonder what is the draw. The books are written very differently, varying styles, characters, plots. Some are psychological studies, some police procedurals, some whodunnits, some whydunnits, etc. I am curious about the pull on readers from afar. Well, I know one thing Anne Holt has pulled me into her Hanne Wilhelmstom series and I’ll be hooked until book 7 is out and I’ve read it. Book 8 is 1222.

    • Yes, I wonder, too, Kathy. They do have that pull. I very much liked The Blind Goddess & look forward to reading more about Hanne when translated.

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  11. I finally finished The Blind Goddess, what with terrible family crises going on. I encourage everyone to read this book. It is better than most of what’s on the “best-seller” lists, shelves at bookstores and the library’s new books’ displays.
    And it again raises the question: Why wasn’t this series translated and published in English at the start — or a few years later? Why is such “rubbish” being published when there is a series like this hidden away, just waiting to be read by those in the global readership? I just do not get it. Why must we be subjected to simplistic language, repetitive plots, boring, cliched detectives, etc. I better not get started here or I”ll be picketing publishing houses!
    We want good books! That’s a simple request.

  12. Amen! Intelligence and imagination add up to good writing! Also, good character development with protagonists who think, don’t just act and have depth.
    The New York Times best-seller lists and my library’s front display shelves are dismal.
    Anyway, it’s so great to have the Internet with this blog and others, which review good books and give one suggestions for at least what to try to find.

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