HARVILL SECKER, £11.99 Order for £10.89 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Bad Intentions, By Karin Fossum, trans Charlotte Barslund
A dip into troubled waters
Monday 12 July 2010
At a recent crime-fiction convention in Bristol, the authors who were after-dinner speakers were dispensing the usual darkly humorous pleasantries to a chuckling audience; how they made a living from murder; how their spouses came up with ever-more ingenious ways of dispatching victims.
But then the guest of honour, Karin Fossum, took the stage, and the bonhomie evaporated in a cool blast of Norwegian air.
Fossum – possibly the most accomplished Nordic female writer of crime fiction at work today – was having none of the brandy-induced good humour that had preceded her, and her truly terrifying description of a real-life child murder was delivered point blank to a suddenly sober audience. People shifted uneasily in their seats, but it was a salutary reminder that crime – however pleasurable on the page – has grim consequences in the non-literary world.
And here is Bad Intentions, a further reminder that Fossum is not in the business of offering readers entry to a comfort zone. As her steely protagonist Inspector Sejer investigates a series of deaths that begin with an apparent suicide, we are a million miles away from crime-fiction cosiness. The book's first location, Dead Water Lake, is as bleak as its name suggests, introducing a narrative shot through with icicles of human malignity. Fossum's Norway is an apposite setting for a long dark night of the soul.
That's not to say, however, that reading Bad Intentions is anything but a bracingly pleasurable experience. By stripping away the usual police procedurals, Fossum suffuses her fiction with something closer to the unsparing vision of her great predecessor, Knut Hamsun.
But this is still a thriller: Fossum never forgets that her primary duty is to entertain, and she keeps her cut-to-the-bone mystery moving briskly. A young man dies in a nocturnal boating incident, and a fateful pact is subsequently made between the two friends who were with him. Inspector Sejer sets out to crack the alibis of the survivors.
Then another body – that of a teenage boy – is found in a nearby lake. With nary a wasted word (in the utilitarian translation by Charlotte Barslund), Fossum steers the ever-apprehensive reader towards the novel's irresolute conclusion. This is not a relaxing journey – but then it would be foolish to pick up a Karin Fossum book for a soothing experience, wouldn't it?
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Video: Boxer Vido Loncar brutally assaults referee following defeat
Mike Read 'apologises unreservedly' for Ukip Calypso and withdraws it from sale
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991 with most Brits wanting to stay in'