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he who fears the wolf

26 august 2022

He Who Fears the Wolf is a well-constructed Scandinavian crime thriller. Karin Fossum's third Sejer/Skarre novel, though, is of a kind that I don't like, or rather like only half of.

In He Who Fears the Wolf, a procedural plot takes up less than half the narrative. Equal time is given to the perspectives of three misfits who are on the wrong side of the law: a problem teen, a mentally ill man, and a bank robber. The misfits aren't entirely evil (just as the cops aren't paragons). The novel speculates about how society, even in a social-welfare state like Norway, criminalizes people who can't function. It's not a bleeding-heart tract; the criminals aren't merely misunderstood, and they do some pretty bad stuff. But there is no place for them in their culture.

The weakness of the novel, really just to my taste, is that the chapters from the perspective of the misfits lack drama. Fossum, to her credit, generates some mystery, both in the contemporary plot and in her characters' backstories. But the focus on the three men means that the procedural will inevitably circle back to those three men, and undermines the detection narrative. The book ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

We do see Sejer, deeply troubled in his widowhood, begin to reconnect with other people; he is on a trajectory out of his worst problems to become the wise elder leader of later books in his series. We see Skarre, early on, still a rank-and-file officer, show signs of the acumen and personableness that will make him Sejer's indispensable sidekick. For Fossum completists, this early novel (ably translated by Felicity David) is well worth filling in.

Fossum, Karin. He Who Fears the Wolf. [Den som frykter ulven, 1997.] Translated by Felicity David. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006. PT 8951.16 .O735D4613