Written by Karin Fossum, translated by James Anderson – The last month has been great for fans of Norway’s Karin Fossum fans. The very first Inspector Sejer novel – In the Darkness (or Eve’s Eye in the US) – has just appeared in English. Alongside a review of that fine book we brought you a guide to the entire Inspector Sejer series here on Crime Fiction Lover. Now, Harvill Secker is publishing I Can See in the Dark. A standalone novel, nothing to do with Sejer, it’s not to be confused with In the Darkness.
Here we meet Riktor, who is more anti than hero. A cynical loner, he works in a nursing home. With a mild lust for a female colleague, he freely admits that he’s never had a woman and finds it extremely difficult to get along with other people. Days off are spent on a bench by the fountain in a local park, observing the other regulars – an old lady, a drunk, a woman with a disabled daughter, a teenage couple, and a big black fellow from the local immigration centre. Sometimes, he creeps around in the bushes too… Verging between pity and hatred, our narrator is perceptive and mean spirited.
That’s the just lighter side of Riktor. His narration, which wastes few words, reveals a series of darker secrets. Chiefly, he tortures the patients at the nursing home. He flushes their medication down the toilet, pinches and scratches them behind the ears where wounds won’t be noticed, or tears hair from their scalps when nobody’s looking. He victimises the most helpless – blind, bedridden mutes.
Riktor likes being in the proximity of death, laughing in its face. He enjoys seeing helpless people die. One day, he even watches a skier fall through the ice on a frozen lake. Thrilled by the man’s death throes he does absolutely nothing about it. It’s all very disturbing but strangely compelling as the author skilfully draws you into his world, and makes you wonder just what will become of such a cold fish. After all, the other children at school called him ‘The Pike’ because of his underbite and pointy teeth.
There is no action to speak of, but the story gathers pace when he makes friends with the alcoholic from the park, Arnefin. He wins the man’s friendship by giving him vodka, but the favour isn’t repaid and the disappointment is too much for Riktor. On top of that, his antics at the nursing home bring him under suspicion. A patient is dead and a too-smooth detective comes calling. Riktor ends up on remand and his mind gets even stranger as he mounts his defense, and falls for the prison cook. Will he go down for murder? Will he go down for the right murder? Will he find – hah! – love? You’ll have to read it to find out.
I Can See in the Dark is an intriguing book on many levels. The storytelling is outstanding, and the mystery’s not something to be unraveled via a process. It’s wrapped up in Riktor’s strange mind. He says he can see in the dark, the trouble is he can’t seem to discern things that are plain as day to most of us. Fossum not only shows us the world through the eyes of someone with a personality disorder, but gives us a tour. He inhabits the frayed edges of the fabric of Norwegian society with the single mothers, disabled, elderly, immigrants and addicts. There are so many perceptive touches and surprises throughout – strange bits of symbolism and juxtapositions of attitudes and ideas. Dark, brilliant, and guaranteed to leave you a little queasy.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars