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.