Dont Look Back Karin Fossum

Don’t Look Back is the latest in the series of Inspector Sejer crime novels, penned by Norwegian Karin Fossum. This is a flawed gem of a novel – sparkling in the beauty and clarity of the small-town atmosphere and environment it creates, but with one major flaw – more about that later. It also finishes with, as one reviewer describes it – “with such a blow to the stomach”. Indeed, there is a terrific and totally unexpected sting in the tail of this tale.

It opens with real vigour and passion, there’s no gently easing into this one, and Karin keeps an ominous and foreboding tone throughout. In a small town, a teenage girl’s body is found naked and dead by a lake, the body covered by a jacket. The concentrated force of the subsequent investigation penetrates the previously hidden world of this small village, as is inevitable when a large force focusses on a small object. These are the twin strands of the novel – the town’s hidden world, and the mystery of the girl’s murder.

Both strands are seemlessly combined and interwoven throughout, and Karin has created a real page-turner here, with both strands mixing at an increasing pace, culminating in a breathless finish. Inspector Sejer, while not quite as intimately depicted as, for example, Harry Hole or Patrick Hedstrom are by Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg, is nonetheless a leading character you respect and get some sort of feel for.

The twist in the tail of this novel is stunning – the author manages to sneak it in, right at the death so to speak, in such a genius manner that I did not even realise it was a twist at all, until a few minutes reflection after finishing the book. Amazing, really. I actually thought the book had ended with a whimper, until the realisation of what happened hit me like a hammer.

So what then, you may wonder, is the “major flaw” I alluded to earlier? POSSIBLE SPOILER FOLLOWS. It is the fact that right from the frantic beginning of this novel, there is an incident that occurs, which surely any policeman worth his salt would have investigated fully or more thoroughly, and which directly impacts on the dramatic ending. It is utterly unbelievable that Inspector Mejer would so flippantly discount an obvious suspect. I was literally screaming throughout the novel, “what about Person X???”, but alas to no avail, as King Canute could testify. So therefore, the novel’s plot depends on a suspension of disbelief on our behalf, which is too much to ask in my opinion, and it is such a shame also.

This really annoyed me at the time (seeing a classy novel tainted by the above issue), but it wouldn’t put me off reading Karin’s other Sejer novels. I would chalk this one up to a plot device that is just too unbelievable – there’s no reason to believe such flaws will be present in the other novels of the series. Its worth reading I suppose, the atmosphere throughout is fantastic and eerie, and the twisted ending is sublime. Ah, what a masterpiece this could of been!

Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Caldini

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is an analysis and explanation of what Robert B.Caldini, PH.D, calls the 6 “Weapons of Influence”. These weapons are omnipresent nowadays, and are wielded by marketers and advertisers of all persuasions, con-men and scam artists, people collecting for charities in the street, and more than likely by your boss! His aim is to inform us of these methods of manipulation, and to arm us with ways to combat them, through his “How To Say No” section, at the end of each chapter.

Dr. Robert is a behavioural psychologist, and purports that we humans have “fixed-action” responses ingrained in our being, which these weapons are targeted against, with the aim of triggering and manipulating these responses. Now, I am a sceptic when it comes to self-help books and such, but believe me, this book is the real deal (or maybe that’s exactly what Dr. Robert persuaded me to think!), and the multitude of real-life examples he gives for each “weapon” and response are fascinating and really ring true.

So, to the weapons, which are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Throughout the book, the good doctor describes what he calls our “click, and whirr” reaction – an almost mechanical reaction – to each of the persuasion techniques. I’ll just give you a little flavour of some of these, as I was genuinely astonished as I read about each one, to discover how effective these are on people, and how susceptible I am to them too! One of the more striking ones, was related to Reciprocation, where in a supermarket a lady may offer you free samples of cheese. Click, and whirr – once you accept and taste, your deep-seated tendency to feel obliged to return the “favour” kicks in, and it will be damn difficult for you not to buy some cheese. After all, you owe her something, right?

Our how about the Commitment and Consistency example, which revealed to me the solution to a long-held mystery of mine – why do cereal boxes perpetually have those stupid “Write why you love Nutty Cereal in 15 words or less” competitions? The answer is, that once we humans commit to something, no matter in how seemingly blase a fashion, click and whirr, we are sticklers to be consistent with that commitment, even if we don’t fully realise we even made a commitment. So, picture you this – you physically write down “I love Nutty Cereal because I am nutty too”, ostensibly to win a prize (snigger), and sign your name to that. That’s a pretty big commitment, like it or not. The good doc shows how the act of writing and signing your name to something is a pretty big deal for people, commitment-wise. Chances are, next time you are in the big S, mulling over what cereal to buy, once you see or think of the Nutty Cereal brand, click and whirr – “I’m nutty too” and your commitment reaction will likely nudge your brain into erring on the side of Nutty Cereal.

Please indulge me with one more example – you will learn from this, I promise. Its a familiar scenario: its Christmas, you’ve promised your child a certain toy, but it is mysteriously sold out of every shop. Hmmm, why is it that this happens every year with ultra-popular brand name toys? The answer is, that it is to trigger your Scarcity and Commitment and Consistency reactions. You have promised your kid – you made a commitment dammit. The toy is sold out – proving its worth and how special and brilliant it is! Combined, these two fators are extremely powerful. The toy manufacturers know that as it is Christmas you are going to buy another toy right now instead, for the same monetary value probably, as a replacement. But, because you have committed to the currently unavailable item, they know you will be back for it, likely in January when they have a real slump in sales. So by making something very popular be unavailable now, they are hedging that you will still spend now, AND also spend in the future. I believe this is true and deliberate strategy. From personal experience, last Christmas I promised my daughter a Monster High Doll. Sold out of course, literally everywhere. In its stead I bought a Barbie doll. But I had promised, and sure enough, in January the local toy website was advertising Monster High Dolls. Luckily, my wife curbed my impulses then and there to rush out and buy it, but I can testify that it was ultra tempting.

Apologies if this review is a bit anecdotal almost, but that is the effect this book had on me – I fear my enthusiasm is uncontrollable. This book will change your life, or at the very least open your eyes to the weapons of persuasion that are undoubtedly employed en-masse against us all in today’s society.

So next time someone tries to give you something seemingly for “free”, you know what to do. Just scream in their face “NO WAY, I’m on to you!!”. Then slink off backwards, staring and wagging your finger at them – that’ll learn ‘em. Just kidding Doc.

The New Nobility – Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

The New Nobility – The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB, is a book that delivers exactly what its title promises. This is a very brave work, written in English by Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. I don’t say “brave” lightly, when you consider the fate of so many Russian journalists, lawyers or human rights activists who dare challenge or question Putin’s establishment in today’s Russia. Indeed, reading a little online about the authors, they have experienced their share of harassment prior to authoring this work, including involuntary “visits” to Lefortovo prison – one hopes that this literary work will not be used as an excuse for more of the same against them.

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Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, the late American science fiction writer, served in the U.S army in World War II, was captured and imprisoned by the German army in Dresden, and therefore witnessed the fire-bombing of that city by the Allies in February 1945. Slaughterhouse 5 is the book he felt compelled to write about this massacre, being turned as he said into a figurative “pillar of salt” in its aftermath. It is also his rejection of war of any kind in its entirety, and should be considered a classic “anti-war” book, as well as a testimony to the bombing of civilian innocents in Dresden.
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