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black seconds

26 october 2014

Black Seconds, like Karin Fossum's earlier crime novel Don't Look Back, begins with the abduction of a child. Based on all of two novels (and I've read only three-and-a-half of Fossum's books altogether), I think I can identify a Theme in her work. "Something like that brands people for generations," one of her characters observes (38); and Black Seconds is a study of how such branding happens.

Fossum generates suspense by showing us just enough from the perspective of the child and various suspects. We don't hear from the child again after the first chapter, which is a bad sign, but we don't see any actual abduction, so hope persists. After the child has disappeared, we follow two men who are pretty cut up about the event. One is the missing girl's teenage cousin. He's tangentially involved in some drug dealing, and maybe he's been drunk driving, and overall he's more upset than any of this should make him. The other is an older mute man who's a sort of village idiot. But Fossum gives us access to the mute man's stream of consciousness, which in the best Sound-and-the-Fury tradition is anything but idiotic. She may even let us see everything that the mute man is thinking. But it's hard to make out what he's experienced, since we only gain access to his thoughts well after the crime has taken place.

From the other side of the tapestry, we get to see the investigation conducted by Inspector Sejer and his sidekick Skarre. They piece together events according to their own lights, imagining an overdetermined scenario where a mad molester has seized the child and will rape and kill her. It wouldn't be much of a mystery if it followed formula, though. It's not much of a mystery anyway. I figured it out less than halfway through the book. And I am your basic naïve reader. I've been reading detective novels on a weekly basis since I was five, and I never spot the villain.

But I kept reading anyway. Konrad Sejer is a very simpatico hero, as depressed Scandinavian police inspectors go, and I also like his elderly dog Kollberg, whose name is a nice nod to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. In fact, I imagine Kollberg (the dog's) name indicates that in Sejer's universe, the Martin Beck novels exist. That seems a given, since it's a realistic Scandinavia, but literary series can have odd blind spots where other literary series are concerned. I like detective series that show me detectives who read detective series.

Fossum, Karin. Black Seconds. [Svarte sekunder, 2002.] Translated by Charlotte Barslund. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007.

Danish title: Sorte sekunder
French title: Secondes Noires
German title: Schwarze Sekunden