Fossum, Karin - 'Black Seconds' (translated by Charlotte Barslund)
Ida Joner is a sweet girl, adored by her mother Helga. She loves animals, and is looking forward to her tenth birthday. One day she rides out on her yellow bike to buy some sweets. When she fails to return 35 minutes after she should have, Helga starts to worry. She phones around, but there is no word, and eventually she calls the police. Still no news the following day, a local search is organised, with hundreds of local volunteers. However, nothing comes of it. Ida Joner and her yellow bicycle seem to have vanished into thin air.
Fossum seems to write two different kinds of novels: sensitive procedurals focusing on simple, everyday-crimes crimes (such as DON'T LOOK BACK and CALLING OUT FOR YOU), and psychological thrillers based on original and twisted conceits (like WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS THE CANDLE). BLACK SECONDS is of the former type. It deals with a simple, unflashy crime, one that could (and does) happen anywhere. This sad simplicity adds to the strange power of her novels, with their achingly realistic crimes, and their achingly realistic victims, their relatives and neighbours.
If there is one thing that makes Fossum stand out most it is her compassion, for every character: victim, policeman, even murderer. It is the emotional sensitivity of her prose, the immense power she has of evoking empathy for the sorriest of people. Her victims are painfully normal, as are her killers; those mentally less-well off (a common feature in her novels) are generally gentle and above all noble. She has such a natural style, her emotional frankness and simplicity can sometimes be hard to read. I feel much more tarnished (in a good way!) after reading Fossum's novels than I do those full of spilled guts.
Another common thread in her novels is crimes which arise by accident, unfortunate confluences of events. Her criminals are often as much victims of circumstance as anyone else, are often good and normal but for that one act that distinguishes them from other people: they are, for whatever reason, responsible for killing someone. There's little malice in the crimes of BLACK SECONDS, which makes its events hard to know what to do with, and certainly hard to condemn. This seems to me to be a more realistic portrayal of how real crimes occur, and a more thought-provoking one. Chance puts human failings and behaviour on show in all their sad glory.
BLACK SECONDS is a powerful and impressive novel. Sensitive and probing, it delves deeply into the minds and lives of its characters. Fossum holds back as much as possible about the philosophical, charismatic but enigmatic Konrad Sejer, so he retains that air of mystery about him, and he carries the book well to its inevitable conclusion, with it's bitter final punch. BLACK SECONDS is not quite as good as the last novel, the exemplary CALLING OUT FOR YOU, but it mirrors many of that novels great strengths, and is another in the continued peak of what seems to be an excellent body of work.
Read another review of BLACK SECONDS.
Fiona Walker, England