Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

dont look backDon’t Look Back by Karin Fossum, translated by Felicity David
Harcourt, 2002
Originally published as Se Deg ikke Tilbake!, 1996

I chose to read the second Inspector Sejer novel because I wanted to try a new-to-me author of a well-reviewed series, and I’m glad I did despite being burnt out by police procedurals in general in the last several months. The first novel in the series, Eva’s Eye, also published as In the Darkness, was published in 2013 in the US, but I’ve had book 2 waiting on my shelves for awhile so I chose to read it first.

Sejer is a widower still mourning the loss of his wife to cancer, and in this novel he works with Skarre, a young policeman half his age. Their district is large, covering a population of over 100,000 people, while the scene of the crimes at the heart of the novel take place in an incredibly small mountain town.

The subject matter of the book is pretty off-putting: a very young girl is missing in the first chapter of the book but found safe, and in the second chapter of the book a teenage girl is found dead by a mountain lake. Because the crimes took place in such a small community, there’s a bit of a locked-room feel, and there’s a bit of peeling away of people’s facades as Sejer and his colleague Skarre interview lots of residents. The stories Sejer and the rest of the police uncover are quite sad, and they lend emotional depth to the investigation.

Despite the sadness of the story, Sejer himself doesn’t seem overly gloomy, which is appealing in a protagonist. He feels empathy for the people he interviews not only because they were touched by the crimes at the center of the novel but because of their lives together in their small town. I’m glad I have several more novels in the series to get to soon.

Other reviews appear in Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and Reactions to Reading and The Crime Segments.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

  1. Rebecca – Thank you for the kind mention. I agree with you that this novel really does reveal people’s characters layer by layer. And that’s how the history of the murder comes out too, which I found interesting. The novel does have a lot of sadness, but I agree; Sejer himself is not unbearably bleak as a character. I truly hope that you’ll like the rest of the series. It’s one of the ones I truly enjoy.

    • You’re welcome, Margot: thanks for keeping Fossum on my radar so I’d actually get to her stuff. I’m always happy to find good reads based on your recommendations.

  2. If you want a change from police procedurals, some suggestions are: Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin; Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda and the Annika Bengtzon series by Liza Marklund. Also, there is Sara Paretsky’s series featuring V.I. Warshawski, a feisty, brave, smart, opinionated and witty private detective in Chicago. Her latest is Critical Mass, which has some serious political issues, but also humor interspersed.
    And if you need lightness and wit, try Liza Scottoline’s Accused, featuring two women attorneys and a zany Italian family.

    • Thanks for the recommendations, Kathy. I have the first in Liza Marklund’s series (not the one published first but the first in the storyline) that I started ages ago. I think I did the same with Crooked Letter, actually. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for and sample lots of opening chapters, I think. Also, I haven’t read Paretsky for quite some time though I’ve collected all the books!

  3. I love Sara Paretsky’s books. V.I. Warshawski is my alter ego, the woman I wish I were in another life. But “Critical Mass” contains substantial social issues, stemming from WWII, but also from U.S. military history. I learned some things from this book, but also laughed. I could not put it down.

    • Thanks for making such a strong case for Paretsky: now I know that I’ve been missing out as a few of her books languish on my shelf! On a related note, the Warshawski series is what got me back into crime fiction during one winter vacation during law school.

  4. I am in the same situation, this is the only book by Fossum that I have. I did not realize the first had been published last year and I am not sure whether I will get it and read it first or not. I have had this one for a long time. Since I like police procedurals, I will probably like it. I guess I have put it off because I just have too many books.

    • Sejer feels like a unique main character to me, and I don’t feel like I missed too much of his backstory by starting with this book. I hope you enjoy it when you get to Fossum, Tracy.

  5. Thanks for the review, Rebecca. I think Fossum is a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading her.

    • I definitely like starting at the beginning– or almost at the beginning in this case– with writers I’m interested in. Which Fossum books are your favorites?

      • I’ve read three and would rec them all: He Who Fears The Wolf, The Caller and The Indian Bride was discussion worthy because of the ending. Her books just take a realistic look at the effects of crime and the consequences for victim and perpetrator. Her antagonists are not always all bad or evil. She humanizes her characters which is what I like.

  6. Keishon- I have two of those particular Fossum books waiting for me, and it is a nice switch not to have a totally evil antagonist. Thanks for the recs.

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