Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bad Intentions, Karin Fossum

One of the distinctive features of Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer series is that they're not formulaic. A couple of them are straight police procedurals, but others are told more from the point of view of the characters than the police. Bad Intentions (published in the U.S. this year by Houghton Mifflin in a translation from the Norwegian by Barslund) is different as well, beginning with an incident that seems to be a crime but then doesn't. Fossum also has in several books led the reader to certain expectations about the story that she proceeds to undermine, and that is also true of Bad Intentions. What we might take at first to be a murder among friends turns into an intense story of collective guilt, sociopathic behavior, and loss.

The novel is short and intense, not perhaps my favorite among the Sejer books (but then I'm partial to the police procedural form, which is not the most important part of Bad Intentions). We learn a bit about Sejer, though, now that he is aging, his daughter is not close at hand, and his Sharpei is his closest companion (Skarre, his partner, is on stage only a few times). What I like best about Bad Intentions is the quiet tone, which emphasizes ordinary human feelings and failings, offering in the end a glimpse of hope (or at least coping): this isn't about international conspiracies, criminal gangs, or serial killers. It's a very closely observed, economically constructed story of the needs and bad choices of ordinary people.


Maxine Clarke said...

A very fair and perceptive review, as ever, Glenn. This is (I suspect) yet another series that suffers from being translated in an apparently random order.

Maxine Clarke said...

PS - A clarification. I say "I suspect" not because I don't know whether the series is being translated out of order -- I know it is being. "I suspect" is because I have not read the ones that have not been translated into English yet so I cannot be sure that they suffer, but I think they do. EG in this one there is a hint of relationship interest by Seger with the psychologist, yet in an earlier novel he was having a sort of relationship with a different psychologist (or psychiatrist). And at the end of another one there is a cliffhanger where Skarre is stabbed, yet this is not even referred to in the next translated novel.