13 March 2010

Powerful Norwegian tragedy

It had been a long time since I read one of Karin Fossum's books. She's one of the Norwegian crime writers who has made a name for herself outside of Norway.

[Norwegian Mystery (November 2006), Unexpected Norwegian Treat (December 2006), Who's evil? Who's a victim? (December 2006)]

I might not have pulled this one off the Northfield Public Library shelf if I'd remembered how bleak and dark those books were -- especially the last one. I'm glad I didn't remember.

Black Seconds was a difficult book to read (like a couple of the earlier ones). It revolved around the death of a nine-year-old girl. She disappeared while on a bike trip to a convenience story near home. She'd gone to buy a comic book. She never returned. Her new yellow bike disappeared too. If you have kids, you know why this was difficult to read. If you don't have kids, you can imagine, but you'd have to have a really visceral imagination to really know. Nancy noted, after David's birth, that she'd never felt so vulnerable.

Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre are on duty when the call about the missing girl comes in. Thus the story begins.

But this, like Fossum's earlier books, is more than story telling. Along with the events that make up the story, there are the ruminations of many people, and that's the most powerful part of the book. Fossum explores multiple perspectives: Sejer's, the missing girl's mother's, the missing girl's aunt's, the missing girl's cousins', and others. These internal dialogues have to carry the book forward, because there aren't many events.

Fossum tells us about intensive and futile searches. There is questioning by Sejer and Skarre. There is waiting. Sejer and Skarre fill in the waiting time investigating a fender bender involving one of the missing girl's cousins and his sketchy friend. They also try to interview the neighborhood character, a 50-something autistic man who can't speak. When that interview is a bust, they try talking to his widowed mother, who cleans his house, washes his clothers, and does his shopping. They even contact the missing girl's pen pal in Germany.

Practically nothing happens during most of the book. The searches and investigations go nowhere. After reading over half the book, the tension was intense. Fossum does an excellent job of sticking with events and the thoughts of the characters. That straightforward, factual story telling raised my anxiety level.

Sejer and Skarre begin re-interviewing everyone. Cracks begin to appear in people's stories. Somewhere in the second half of the book, I began to suspect what had really happened. But I wasn't sure until the very end.

A little girl died in a small Norwegian village. Some of the fears of everyone involved were borne out. But some of the mystery resulted from people trying to protect themselves and other parts resulted from the recognition of the vulnerabilities of parents.

I'm glad I stuck with this one, in spite of the ineffable sadness of the story.

Have you read Black Seconds? Write and tell us what you thought.

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