Don't Look Back
(Harcourt)During the days I was immersed in this one, an ex-boyfriend, drunk, called to say he was going to cut off my water. My brother was diagnosed with prostatitis, and the daughter of one of my best friends got pregnant (she doesn't like the man she thinks --- she thinks! --- responsible). All the while I was reading Don't Look Back, I found myself thinking, "I've got to finish this book: I wish these people would stop bothering me."A good detective story is like good pornography. For one thing, it won't leave you alone. This death business spreads out, takes over the world. In the same way in Deep Throat or Tales from the Crack or Bad Wives everyone, no matter how ancillary, gets involved: the milkman, the UPS guy, the maid, the real-estate agent, the chimney-sweep. Sooner or later, they all have their clothes off and are humping away. It's a noisy concert (or consort) of ill-restrained, usually ill-shot, passion.In Don't Look Back --- which, I hasten to add, is smut-free --- Annie Holland is left buck-naked after she gets bumped off out in the lovely Norwegian countryside at the side of a lake near Kollen mountain. Soon after a mysterious figure appears looking at us through windows. Then Annie's step-father commits suicide, an old case (death of an infant) is resuscitated, along with a ten-year-old rape conviction. Then someone beats Annie's boyfriend Halvor to within an inch of his life, and it is revealed that Halvor murdered his drunken, abusive father when he was fourteen. This death business spreads all over the place, like bodily fluids in Debbie Does Dallas and some of us find ourselves caught up in it, becoming a part of it, getting a bit fluid ourselves.
Likewise, in Don't Look Back, we become aides to Konrad Sejer and his young assistant, Jacob Skarre. Every clue that turns up gets us to thinking, well this does point to Annie's old gym teacher, Kurt, doesn't it? After all, he was convicted of rape ten years ago. No, it has to be young Halvor, Annie's ex: he was beaten so regularly by his drunken father that he has a big scar on his face where the old man cut him. He certainly has a hate going, right?
But surely it can't be the elegant rug-merchant Jonas, even though he was the last to see Annie alive. He is so forthcoming. Who could possibly accuse him?
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The mystery of a good mystery writer is how he or she leaks out the action and the information in a way to keep us going, and, then, at the end, sews everything up so neatly, in a package, so we are thinking, "Whew!" It is a relief. We have pulled this thing off together, just in time, us (the reader) and Karin Fossum (the writer) and it is like coming to the end of Behind the Green Door; we are relieved to be done with it, but, down deep, there is the wish that we could crank it up, do it all over again.
Fossum has sewed it up so neatly that we, now professional detectives like Sejer and Skarre, have to seek out the flaws. There are only a couple. One is not so obvious: the way the Bad Guy tries to do in poor old Halvor is to wrap him in carpet, seal it carefully with plastic and tape, "the black kind that Sejer knew was nearly impossible to remove." Halvor is encased in this plastic and wool coffin for more than six hours, yet, mystery magic! he doesn't suffocate, even after being beaten within an inch of his life. This detective doesn't buy it.
There's only one other I could find in an otherwise impressive translation from the Norwegian (I guess it's impressive; my Norwegian is a little rusty). It is a typo that got me to howling, even though computer-spell is so full of them nowadays that we scarcely notice anymore. Sejer and Skarre go to Oslo to roust up Annie's stepfather, a drunk, a hater, thus a natural suspect. They knock on the door, and then
Bjørk's face in the half-open doorway was a study of muscles, nerves, and ticks that made his dark face shift from one expression to another in seconds.
I think that if I had a face-full of ticks, I'd be a bit shifty-eyed meself.--- Ingmar Nelsen