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21 August 2010

After the Girl Who Enthralled Us

Just like when we were all awaited reading about Harry Potter's next year at Hogwarts and independent booksellers with BookSense as well as a heck of a lot of others began compiling lists of titles to read "While Waiting for the Next Harry Potter Book...," booksellers and readers have begun giving suggestions for alternative Scandinavian authors to read, as we finish the late Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy," on "the girl who" was named Lisbeth and totally enthralled readers. I was skeptical, but shouldn't have been, if I had reasoned it out.  Swedish and Norwegian crime writers apparently have more in common to offer to fans of Lisbeth and Mikael than Dodie Smith, Eva Ibbotson and Narnia could for young fans of JK Rohlwing's alternative world of wizards and Muggles. Well, I learned something new: Iceland is part of Scandinavia but Denmark is not.

Of course, we have the internationally renowned Mankell Henning, who is indeed also Swedish. His detective character is Kurt Wallander, but his latest book, The Man from Beijing is not of that series. Called a "stand-alone" work, this title begins in a Swedish village, but takes the reader across the globe and over 140 years back and forth in time.

My new find is Karin Fossum who writes of small-village Norway with a stark clarity which I associate with the crisp air of autumn here and what I imagine of the atmosphere of Norway year 'round.

The quotes on the back of the book as well as in publisher publicity liken her hero Inspector Sejer to Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse and P.D. James's Adam Dagliesh. I say, "Nonsense!"  Sejer, a widower who still misses his wife, enjoys listening to music and gets his exercise and companionship through walking his dog, is not as morose as Morse nor as arrogantly single and single-minded as Dagliesh. However, comparisons always help potential readers make decisions to take the plunge and try something new.  "Gifted detective," maybe; "troubled man," I don't agree.  I can agree that yes, they are all three police inspectors, single men with a backstory that provides readers with something over which to sigh, speculate and consider as the criminal investigation moves and stalls and veers and finally either concludes and dwindles into an unsatisfactory but realistic "stay tuned for Cold Case CSI."

Once a reader is persuaded to begin, he can easily see that Sejer is much more like an ordinary person, not immersed entirely in his personal angst nor in his gruesome yet noble profession, but an honest man with a normally average (dare I say, small-village Norway?) share of life's sad and happy events attempting to continue living a good life and doing a good day's work. Then, the readers can involve themselves with the crime, the victims which include not only the dead but those related to her, and the other characters, be they incidental or pivotal or colorful. Fossum does a great job, drawing us in, with descriptions that are neither too gruesome, too academic, nor too superficial. Her choice of words is economical, but rich.  She draws us into Sejer's small-village Norway just as well as Larsson drew us into the various neighborhoods of big-city Stockholm.

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