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Posted: March 17, 2019

Love and determination blossom among the dark

Book Review

By Derryll White

Fossum, Karin (1996). Don’t Look Back.

Karin Fossum is a Norwegian writer, translated by Felicity David in a graceful, easy manner. Konrad Sejer is an older man who has seen a lot. Smart and tough, he is also a grandfather and torn by missing child cases, and Ragnhild Album, an only child aged 6 1/2, is missing.

Fossum is excellent at building characters. She takes Sejer through all the regular police actions for a missing child, building tension as the mother falls apart and the police officers kick the search into gear. Six hours into it Sejer says, “I can’t face the thought of finding her in a ditch” and steps out to calm himself a little. There is Ragnhild standing on the doorstep.

This is a slow book; not boring but slow. Fossum takes her time, letting the reader comprehend Norwegian village life and personal relationships. Sejer himself is the epitome of patience and persistence, letting each witness tell his or her story, buying sketch books and pastels for young Ragnhild and for Raymond, the Downs Syndrome boy. He asks them to draw their memories of events, eking out each and every clue regarding Annie Holland’s murder.

This is a story of patience, of keeping one’s mind on permutations and possibilities of a homicide unfolding. Chief Inspector Sejer is a model for not finding fault, for persistence, for maintaining a non-judgmental persona. There are many themes running through the story and Karin Fossum plays with all of them carefully and in a real manner – love, compassion, frustration. Most of all she deftly explores how frustration and weakness in one individual speaks to indelibly taint so many lives.

Dark in spots, the book also blossoms into real understandings of love and determination. I liked it a lot.


Excerpts from the novel:

NORWEGIAN IMMIGRANTS – Irmak did not have the meek, submissive air that he had so often seen in immigrants; instead, he was bursting with dignity and self-confidence. It was refreshing.

PUBERTY – “But I do remember it. Puberty is a really rough time. She was a sunbeam until she turned 13, then she began to snarl. She snarled until she was 14, then she began to bark. And then it wore off.”

PERSONAL PRIVACY – Skarre took notes and thanked her. Then he switched on his computer and did a search for ‘Bjørk, Axel’, thinking how paper-thin personal privacy had become, nothing but a transparent cloth that it was impossible to hide behind. He found the man with no trouble and began reading.

POLICING – “Have you discovered anything?” Fritzner said.

“Of course. We have the silent witnesses. You know, the thousands of little things all around. Everyone leaves something behind.”

OLD AGE – “I now know what it’s like to get old.”

“What’s it like?”

“A graceful decline. An insidious, almost unnoticeable process that you only discover at sudden, shocking moments.”

FAITH – “I’ve never understood faith.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t understand what it takes to have it.”

“It’s just a matter of a certain attitude. You choose an attitude to life, which in time brings you benefits and joy. It gives you a sense of connection to the past and it lends a meaning to life and death that is intensely reassuring.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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