Fossum, Karin - 'The Murder of Harriet Krohn' (translated by James Anderson)
THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN is the seventh in Karin Fossum's series of crime novels set in small town Norway featuring Chief Inspector Sejer, and has been translated out of order, appearing in English after the tenth novel in the series. The book reads like a standalone rather than a conventional police procedural, as the action unfolds from the perspective of the murderer of Harriet Krohn, Charlo Torp. Torp is a middle-aged widower, unemployed and estranged from his daughter and friends, and in debt, all due to a gambling addiction. He is in despair at the start of the novel, as one of his former friends has threatened physical violence against him if he doesn't repay his debts. He writes a letter full of self-pitying despair and emotional blackmail to his teenage daughter Julie, setting the scene for the rest of the novel in the combination of clingy attentiveness to his daughter and lack of a genuine sense of remorse or responsibility as regards the consequences of his misdeeds.
Torp decides to solve his money problems by burgling the house of frail elderly widow Harriet Krohn, a wealthy woman whom he has seen in local cafes. He correctly gambles that he can gain access to her house if he pretends to be delivering a bouquet of flowers as a gift to her. When Harriet Krohn manages to muster up some resistance to his pilfering of her family silver, he explodes into violence, beating her to death with a pistol butt, then ransacking her house for money and valuables. Torp's initial shock at his actions and loss of control soon fades, and with signal lack of remorse he starts to justify his behaviour to himself. The very next day Torp schemes to buy a horse from a local stables to win back his daughter's affections, and manages to insinuate himself back in to his daughter's life and day-to-day routine at the local stables. But he has Inspector Sejer on his trail, a man famed for never leaving any murder case unsolved.
This novel forms a fairly interesting character study of what happens when a mostly law-abiding, if rather selfish individual tips over into committing a brutal crime, in a manner reminiscent of Ruth Rendell, a writer to whom Fossum is often compared. Torp is far from the stereotypical psychopathic killer. He is rather a weak, and at times whiny character, but is capable of showing genuine affection to his daughter Julie and to horses and manages to work hard carrying out labouring and menial duties for the stable's owner. But his instinct for self-preservation renders him utterly ruthless; most of his anxieties following his crime centring on his own state of physical and mental health rather than any genuine remorse or empathy for his victim. I found that because Torp is drawn as a relatively normal man, the mundanity of his thoughts and flashbacks to earlier family life at times made for slightly dull reading, with the speed of action and plot picking up only in the last third of the novel, when Sejer becomes involved. As ever with Fossum's work, this is a well-written book, but I found this one of the weaker instalments in the Sejer series, so not an obvious starting point for a reader new to Karin Fossum.
Laura Root, England