Alex, (Philip) Reilly and Jon are camping out on the banks of Dead Water Lake. They all have something on their conscience, something in which they were involved together nine months earlier, something that has affected each in a very different way. Alex has become more determined than ever to keep the situation and those concerned completely under his control; Reilly has retreated further into a world dulled by the use of narcotics; Jon - Jon has found no way of coping and as a consequence has been admitted to Ladegarden Psychiatric Hospital following a nervous breakdown. The trip to the lake is Jon's first venture back into the world and it quickly becomes apparent that his reluctance to go away with his friends is well founded. When the three of them go out on the Lake that night only two return.
This is the first of Fossum's Insepctor Sejer novels that I've read and was kindly sent to me by NetGalley. Normally, I prefer to read a crime series in order and I'm feeling the lack of any pre-knowledge of how Fossum works acutely in writing this review. In many respects this novel is very different from the books in this genre that I would normally read and I don't know to what extent that is true of all the author's work, or whether this book stands out as an exception in her own work. There is also the further complication that I am, of course, reading it in translation and some of the features that stand out may be as a result of that further physical distancing from the writer's intentions.
And distancing is one of the first things that I was aware of with this novel, my distance as a reader from most of the characters and most especially from the two detectives Sejer and Skarre. This is certainly not what I would expect from a British or American crime writer, who for the most part will centre the narrative around the thoughts and the actions of their investigators and make each novel the opportunity to develop their on-going characters. Here, the only character to whom I became anywhere near attached was Reilly. The detectives remained almost anonymous, although this could, of course, be a feature of this book alone; it may be that I ought to know them well enough by now from earlier novels in the series.
The other aspect of the book which I found different was how sparse it seemed. There are no sub-plots, no red herrings, it concentrates on telling the story of the crime these three have committed and its disastrous consequences to the exclusion of anything else. As crime novels in English get thicker and thicker, with two or sometimes three investigations running parallel to each other, it seemed strange to sit down and read this book in a single sitting.
However, these differences do not make this in any way a less satisfying read. The main effect of the unexpected point of view is that there is a tendency to sympathise, or at least to understand, the perspective of the accused and in this case, at least, that is no bad thing. By the end of the book, one person will bear the responsibility for a series of preventable deaths, but nevertheless it is difficult to feel that what you are looking at is a harden criminal. Coming hot on a succession of Val McDermid's serial killers this is something of a relief. Perhaps not all baddies are psychopaths after all. It is also a lot easier to keep up with the twists and turns of the plot. In fact, I'm tempted to ask what twists and turns? If you've tried to get your mind round something like the latest C J Sansom, for example, this is also a comfort. Drawing up plot analyses was something I thought I'd put behind me when I finished my PhD, but with some crime fiction it's really the only way to keep track of what's going on.
All in all then this is a well-written book, with a clear, well organised plot and some interesting, if perhaps underdeveloped, characters. Certainly, I enjoyed it enough to go back in the series in order to discover to what extent it is typical of Fossum's work and I would be more than happy to pick up her next novel to see where her writing takes her.