It's been over 40 years since I read any Dostoyevsky, but I had flashbacks last night while reading Karin Fossum's Bad Intentions. Someone at NPR said a Fossum mystery is "equal parts whodunit, heart-thumper and creep show." Fossum says they are “small, quiet stories.”
Well, Bad Intentions may be small (just over 200 pages) but it's not quiet. It is creepy. It's really not a mystery, and her main detective, Inspector Sejer, plays a very minor role in the plot. But it was, for me, a "heart-thumper." Two of the main characters were guilt-ridden, Dostoyevsky-like characters. A third was a Dostoyevsky-like manipulator, who evaded his own guilty feelings by attributing them to "lesser men."
The story revolves around the death of a man after a drinking party. Three friends who were involved in hiding the body, if not directly in the man's death, try to find ways of living with their memories. One of them ends up in a mental hospital, another in a quest to stay as high as possible for as along as possible. The third friend tries to find ways to get his buddies to carry his guilt as well as their own. Two of the friends are obviously in danger and my fear for them kept me reading as much as Fossum's skill in telling the story and probing the minds of the three main characters.
I was struck by Barry Forshaw's comment in his review of Bad Intentions in The Independent (UK). He described a mystery writer's conference where everyone was having a good time with "shop talk." Then Karin Fossum spoke: "Fossum... was having none of the brandy-induced good humour that had preceded her, and her truly terrifying description of a real-life child murder was delivered point blank to a suddenly sober audience. People shifted uneasily in their seats, but it was a salutary reminder that crime – however pleasurable on the page – has grim consequences in the non-literary world." It's a connection that even the graphic visuals of television's medical examiners don't often make for viewers.
If you're looking for a short narrative story about human frailty, this might be a book to go to. If you need your stereotypes of Norway adjusted, this might be a place to begin. If you want a deep exploration of guilt, go to Dostoyevsky. Just remember that Dostoyevsky's books are really long.
- Barry Forshaw's review in The Independent.
- Laura Wilson's review in The Guardian.
- Lesley McDowell's review in The Herald (Edinburgh).