Henning Mankell introduced me to the wonders of Scandinavian crime writing, and led me to Karin Fossum, who is even better at it than our venerable Swedish friend. She's a little bit different in approach though: Mankell, who we all know, sticks, in his Wallander books at least, to the police procedural style. Perhaps that's his weakness. Fossum takes some elements of the procedural and mixes them with psychological drama.
For comfort she holds on to a common central character or two; Inspector Sejer is the reassurring anchor-man and his junior, Jacob Skarre, the device through which we learn how clever Sejer is. It all works beautifully.
Often in her books (and 'Black Seconds' is no exception), there is an 'oddity', an outcast in society on whom suspicion naturally falls. Perhaps this method of revealing society's simplistic reactions is overused in her novels, but it is effective, and usually quite creepy.
Here, a middle-aged outcast of childlike intellect is involved in the disapppearance of a child. Fossum once again manages the clever trick of fooling us into believing that what seems obvious isn't. Actually it is.
What's really clever is the way the second plot revolves around the first. In fact it's the second plot (about a teenager who crashes his car) is really the most interesting part of the novel. It throws up all kinds of questions about ideal and actual morality. Nothing is clear cut (another theme of Fossum's).
The way these two strands are pulled together is beautifully done in the author's unpretentious but stylish hand. In a way, not much happens, but the way it happens is absolutely compelling. In just a few well-chosen words, Karin Fossum creates a world you care about, people you can see and feel, and an atmosphere you can touch. I don't know anybody who does this kind of thing better.