Sunday, June 03, 2007

Karin Fossum, When the Devil Holds the Candle

After three novels by Colin Watson, I was ready for something harrowing. When the Devil Holds the Candle, by Norway's Karin Fossum, looks as if it will be more wrenching that the previous novel of hers that I read, the excellent He Who Fears the Wolf.

The lighter moments are fewer and the opening chapters more graphic and heart-rending than in the earlier book. The thoughtful, thorough Inspector Konrad Sejer and his young colleague Skarre are back in a story that unfolds slowly, painting a psychological landscape peopled by three intensely troubled characters and a cast of others who have smaller troubles of their own. As in He Who Fears the Wolf, Sejer makes his initial appearance relatively late (around page 55 here). By the time he appears, Fossum has created a thicket of psyches waiting to be investigated.

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This is the third Scandinavian crime I've read in the last few months in which the devil figures in the title, after The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø and Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil. In those novels, Satan comes with an -ism attached; the killings have trappings of devil worship. In Fossum's book, I suspect, the devil will be a more serious topic, a vehicle for the investigators to probe the problem of evil. Or at least it seems that way, from the lighthearted after-dinner chat of Sejer, his girlfriend Sara, and Skarre.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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