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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Eva's Eye by Karin Fossum, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages, hardcover, $25

If you are already a fan of Karin Fossum, you will rejoice that the first book in the Inspector Sejer series has finally been translated into English. Fossum wrote it in 1995 and Eva's Eye is occasionally glaringly salted with oddities of that time. (At one point Fossum describes a Compaq computer sitting on someone's desk.) This book is the missing piece to the puzzle in that Fossum describes Sejer in many ways, more so than in her other books.

Inspector Konrad Sejer lives and works in "a small town" in Norway. But this small town certainly has had its share of crime over the years, enough to keep a detective force busy.

Sejer is 49 years old, has been a widow for eight years, has a daughter who is a nurse, a son-in-law who is a Red Cross doctor, and a grandson who was adopted in Somalia. Fossum describes him at various points as reserved, traditional, never diffident, exuding authority, and logical. Rather staid adjectives. But wait! Fossum injects quiet humor into her story, including this description of Sejer: "But during sunny summers he found peace, he didn't itch so much then."

Sejer is a seeming contradiction at times. He placidly drives at the speed limit but likes skydiving. Then we learn that he only skydives when it isn't windy. He has made 2000+ windless, accident-free jumps. There is that dour part of him that realizes that statistically he's headed for a fall. Someday his main chute will fail and he's going to have to pull his reserve chute. He mentally practices what he will need to do. He's a prudent man in all things, a cautious daredevil.

Not long into Eva's Eye we meet Eva Marie Magnus and make the assumption that it is her titular eye. She discovers a dead body in a river while walking with her young daughter. She tells her daughter that she is phoning the police, but strangely she dials her father instead and carries on an insipid conversation with him. They then walk to MacDonald's for lunch.

After the police are eventually notified about the body in the river, it becomes Sejer's case. The corpse used to be a brewery worker named Egil Einarsson, who has been missing for six months. He was murdered.

Sejer's other case has been languishing. A prostitute named Maja Durban was murdered in her home. Sejer doggedly pursues further investigation, even though the murder is now six months old. He decides to reinterview one of the witnesses. Eva Marie Magnus.

This is a stellar start to the series. Sejer's character is well delineated. The plot is surprising right up to the end. Fossum adroitly splices stories together. The reader may think she or he is following one storyline, only to bump up against another story. Past alternates with present. Halfway through Eva's Eye, the story starts all over again at a point before the beginning of the book and catches up at the end to where it left off at the halfway point. But Fossum's clear writing and James Anderson's wonderfully smooth translation give it clarity.

At the beginning of the book Sejer is described like this: "[I]n reality he was merely reserved, and behind the stern features dwelt a soul that was kindly enough." Now that is a quality to be treasured.

This is the convenient excuse you needed to begin reading Fossum's wonderful, award-winning series all over again.

(P.S. I don't know if Fossum regularly uses this scheme, but I think Eva's Eye ends with the start of the case that is the next book, Don't Look Back.)

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