Sunday, September 23, 2007

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW: KARIN FOSSUM'S HE WHO FEARS THE WOLF

REVIEW OF KARIN FOSSUM'S HE WHO FEARS THE WOLF BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, December 18, 2005


I am not a regular reader of mysteries, but my wife has encouraged me to read a number of interesting writers in this genre. One of my favorites is Norwegian writer, Karin Fossum.

He Who Fears the Wolf is a story with her appealing character, Chief Inspector Konrad Sejer, a quiet, thoughtful man with unusual powers of observation and a somewhat melancholy personal life that keeps him immersed in his work. The contrast with gun-waving, bellowing American detectives is notable and welcome. In this character, as in so many of Ms. Fossum's characters, there is a deep sense of humanity and decency.

In Wolf, Ms. Fossum creates another wonderful character, Erkki Johrma, an insane-asylum escapee. Ms. Fossum always displays an interest in the disturbed and rejected of society, but with Errki she has worked something of a miracle.

This story contains what must be one of the most memorable series of scenes in mystery books, to say nothing of literature. It involves the escape of a bank robber and a hostage, and there is a quality here that reminds me of Don Quixote - pathos, absurdity, and subtle humor combined with a very sympathetic view of the human condition. I cannot give any details without spoiling it for you.

Ms. Fossum is also a poet, and her descriptive powers are considerable, but she manages her descriptive passages with quick brushstrokes. She never creates a burden for those who like mystery books to move along briskly. Some might even regard her descriptions of bloody scenes as a bit overpowering.

Please don't think this is an "artsy" book despite its literary qualities, this is a genuine murder mystery, well-paced and gripping. It is a book you will not want to put down.

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