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!