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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 July 2004
I'm a big fan of Henning Mankell's Swedish crime novels, but when I'd read them all (or at least all the ones that have been translated) I started to look around for more Scandinavian crime fiction.
I couldn't have moved on to a better substitute for Mankell.
Karin Fossum's style is not dissimilar to Mankell's, and I suspect that if you like one you'll like the other.
There are differences though. Fossum doesn't make the landscape and climate part of the action like Mankell does. Apart from the occasional place name, there's not much to tell you that you're in Norway, though of course the names of the characters are exotic and interesting.
I think Fossum is better at characterization: she deftly brings out all of her characters where Mankell concentrates on his central character almost at the expense of the others. I was particularly impressed by the way subtle, real details bring the characters to life. There is some very clever, but not showy writing in this novel.
You'll probably have to like "police procedurals" to really enjoy this. But it's not dour, not dull. There are moments of real tension and revelation; you'll find you are easily persuaded to turn to the next page and the next chapter.
I look forward to reading more of Karin Fossum's novels.
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on 2 February 2016
This is a superlative novel. My first Inspector Sejer investigation. Not my last. Violent things happen and there are problems in the small Norwegian town. But Sejer works his way through and solves the mystery with extraordinary human compassion. I cannot recommend this book more highly.
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on 14 March 2017
Great books swift delivery, great stories for the lover of the genre
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on 3 September 2016
I recently read my first Karin Fossum novel, the eighth of the series, which introduced me to Inspector Konrad Sejer and his junior sidekick, Jacob Skarre. At The Water's Edge impressed me, largely because of its striking difference to the majority of crime fiction and indeed Nordic noir. Emotionally resonant, Fossum's novels not only deal with the whodunnit element but concentrates on the whydunnit, the motives behind each and every crime, the emotions that drive them and the guilt and regrets that remain.

Due to being translated out of order this was the first Karin Fossum novel to be published in the UK but in actual fact it is the second novel in the Inspector Sejer series. The serious and determined Inspector Konrad Sejer reminds me of Jørn Lier Horst's William Wisting; easy to work alongside, encouraging to colleagues and possessing excellent interpersonal skills which mean he is able to differentiate his approach to the characters he is interviewing. In common with Wisting, Sejer is a father to daughter, Ingrid and a grandfather and as a widowed man his settled and pleasantly mundane home life is pivotal to his ordered way of thinking. Sejer's enigmatic persona helps to squeeze the often unexpected details from those he speaks with and his unwavering belief that understanding the victim can only serve to enlighten his pursuit of the perpetrator is central to his character.

Karin Fossum takes readers to the small community of Krystallen where neighbours know each other and a pleasant sense of harmony pervades and introduces Irene Album, mother of six-year-old Ragnhild, who was seen leaving her friends home but is now missing. Readers see Ragnhild accompanying Raymond Låke, a Down's syndrome man on a short drive and from there many will feel they can write the script for Don't Look Back. The readers deep-seated prejudices race to the seemingly obvious conclusion, only for Ragnhild to return home safe and sound and with residents telling Sejer that anything untoward would never have crossed Raymond's mind. Just as Sejer is thinking of taking a few days off, a call from Ragnhild's mother the following day reveals that the little village could be holding other secrets. Ragnhild told her mother that when Låke was walking her home they saw the dead body of a young woman laid on the banks of Serpent Lake. Found amid a remarkably non-violent crime scene they discover her body covered by a blue anorak and she is swiftly identified as popular local student, Annie Holland. Struck by the distinct lack of disorder at the crime scene, Konrad Sejer is at first unable to decide what has become of this girl, a suicide or cry for help or a cold blooded murder or something in between? When it becomes clear that Annie drowned and the motive wasn't sexual the waters muddy further and Sejer thinks that the perpetrator is trying to mislead him into assuming their was a sexual element to the crime.

The first tentative steps in the investigative process of tracking down little Ragnhild Album are a clever way of introducing readers to the neighbourhood with an irrevocable shattering of the peace. Sejer's low-key style slowly pays dividends as the seemingly close knit community gradually learns that perhaps all of the neighbours held their own secrets very close to their chests. Pretty soon readers will realise that appearances are deceptive and that many of the seemingly respectable families in the community have kept their own counsel. As it emerges that Sølvi is in fact the half sister of Annie, that Annie's handball coach has a previous conviction for rape and her boyfriend, Halvor, has kept quiet about his own troubled history, further questions are raised, until Sejer and Skarre pin down exactly what happened to cause an outgoing and cheerful Annie to withdraw into her shell in the months preceding her demise.

The majority of the action takes the form of continued interviewing of those in the community, and Fossum allows her readers to see and hear her detectives and the community at close quarters. Sejer is a master at reading people and his questions lead into different areas and often reveal something enlightening. His interviewing style owes more to unplanned casual conversation than structured questions as people open up to him. Resilient and doggishly determined, the key for solving any crime is straightforward for Sejer, specifically a thorough understanding of the victim and the motives for a particular crime. I appreciated the way Karin Fossum lets her readers see the same facts as her investigators and make their own judgements rather than proscribe to her readers how she expects them to feel. The resounding feeling that has remained with me after now reading two of her novels is one of sympathy for all parties and a sadness for what a society has lost, rather than an overwhelming loathing of the perpetrator.

I was gratified that in what formed the introduction to the English readership, Fossum supplies more details about both Sejer and Skarre and I felt a growing familiarity and sympathy for both men, from Sejer's fondness for his dog, Kollberg to the multitude of jobs that Skarre has previously turned his hand to, including taxi driving is Oslo. However the most endearing discovery was undoubtedly that widowed Konrad Sejer's wedding band is made from the welding together of his and his wife's original rings. Sejer is a man who appreciates order and routine and whilst it is common to see antipathy for any form of bureaucracy in crime fiction, he appreciates the value of a different set of eyes being able to go back to police matters with an often different interpretation. Karin Fossum also provides a perspective on the case of Annie Holland, sketchily quantifying the crime statistics of Norway and the investigative capacity of the small community of Krystallen.

Some readers may find the head-hopping and swiftly changing perspectives disconcerting, as Fossum moves between the minds of her characters at will, however I found her transitions very intuitive. Do beware though, within chapters and even paragraphs, the characters point of view that readers are privy to can differ. This makes it sound like a complex read instead of the sheer pleasure it was; for the most part it seamlessly occurs and it only strikes the reader afterwards. Don't Look Back was an utterly fascinating view of the tranquility and calm within a small and friendly neighbourhood being shattered and the arduous task of making inroads could only have been achieved by somebody as tenacious as Inspector Konrad Sejer.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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on 21 November 2016
Had problems with the Norwegian names
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on 22 June 2017
Not very interesting. I won't be buying any more of her books.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 October 2003
After being widely translated in Europe, it's about time that Fossum's excellent police procedurals are becoming available in English. Unfortunately this first book in translation is the fifth in the series, and so a bit of the background is lacking. The story starts with the disappearance of a young girl in a small Norwegian village, but adroitly segues into a murder investigation as the search for the girl turns up an unrelated naked corpse. The town is one of several small communities served by the city police, and grizzled Inspector Sejer and his younger partner Skarre are assigned to the case.
This is above all a psychological mystery, as Sejer and Skarre carefully poke and prod the small community, where everyone knows everyone else, in order to unravel the tale that led to the killing of a well-liked teenage girl. Although the townspeople have plenty of skeletons in their closets, the story never strays into cliché, as it might have under a less assured hand. Sejer is a placid and cunning detective of late middle age, living alone with his dog after being widowed (again, one senses that his personal life has been detailed in previous books). He bears a certain similarity to Det. Inspector Charlie Resnick, the protagonist of John Harvey's long-running Nottingham procedural series. Skarre works well as his younger, more informal partner, slightly treading on eggshells around his more experienced superior.
With no forensic evidence, no witnesses, and no apparent motive, there's little for them to go on. Thus, Sejer and Skarre spend the whole novel interviewing and reinterviewing everyone who knew the girl and might have seen something. As the tension builds, and various red herrings are dispensed with, Sejer grows convinced that the key to the murder lies in an abrupt change in the girl's behavior almost a year previously. This leads seamlessly to yet another layer within the story. Throughout, every character comes to life, and sometimes, the story shift to their perspective for several pages to add a richer depth to the unfolding investigation. Norway never really emerges as a distinct setting, it's a story that really could have been set in any small town in the first world, but it's an absorbing tale, which ends with a potentially unsettling coda.
PS. Danish television produced a four-hour miniseries from the book under the title "Se Deg Ikke Tilbake." With luck, it might be subtitled in English at some point...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 December 2011
When a teenager is found dead and naked in the woods, Inspector Sejer is forced to uncover dark secrets in a small Norwegian village.

This is the first Karin Fossum I have read and on the basis of this I would describe her as an elegant and quite low-key writer. The book isn't big, bold and melodramatic, and instead concentrates on the psychology of the people involved.

There is almost always something a little unbelievable about crime novels - here I wasn't convinced by the big secret: both that it happened, and that others were prepared to cover it up - but I guess that's part of the suspension of disbelief the genre requires.

So I wasn't blown away by the book - but would read another Fossum if in the mood for a crime novel.
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on 17 December 2002
Inspector Sejer is an engaging and thoughtful inspector, the 'suspects' and other characters are carefully drawn and recognisable - the sense of community in this novel is striking. This tale takes place in the real world and is absorbing and chilling because of it. A grown up detective story. I can't wait for Karin Fossum's other novels to be translated - I'm not usually a detective story reader but Elizabeth George and Inspector Lynley have changed that, and I would say Fossum and Sejer are close rivals. Fossum's novel is more than murder-mystery, it is a work of 'proper' fiction, and deserves the awards it has won. Highly enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2009
Det Sejer has a big dog, is widowed and lives in a penthouse flat near the claustrophobic Norwegian village where a child murder takes place. Found the early chapters involving the kidnap and Downs Syndrome suspect very disturbing followed by a big story twist.

The story raced along apart from one whole chapter involving a trip to the crematorium. I honestly thought this was stuck in the book by accident!

The prose is very simple with plain language and limited overall vocabulary. The story is king with little detail on the geography. I am not being flippant to say that at times I thought we were in the Welsh Valleys rather than Norway.

One other small gripe is that around 50 pages from the end it is as though a dam bursts and a whole flurry of clues cascade forth. It's a really odd change of pace out of keeping with what has gone before and seemed like the author suddenly wanted to shorten the book.

The image of the Sea Serpent in the Fjord - don't look back or.... is ok. The novel has several loose ends but plays heavily on the theme of a small insular village that could really be anywhere but where everybody sees but 'nobody saw'.

Overall it was oddly addictive and disturbing. It's not a classic but I liked it and would recommend it. A surprise.
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