You reap just what you sow

This is my review of Bad Intentions (Inspector Sejer) by Karin Fossum.

In this short gripping novel, you suspect the identity of the "culprits" from the outset, so that the intrigue lies in the "how" and "why". Like many Scandinavian crime writers, Karin Fossum is preoccupied with psychology, questions of motivation, guilt, reactions to grief, cause and effect, rather than straightforward crime and its detection.

The story begins, perhaps a little cornily on Friday 13th, with three somewhat unlikely friends staying in a log cabin beside the lake ominously named Dead Water. Their relationship is implied in the first couple of pages: Axel Frimann, materially successful, dominant and manipulative; Philip Reilly, shambling and unambitious, prone to losing himself in books and drug-taking and evading responsibility; Jon Moreno, fragile and sickly, tortured with anxiety which has led to his hospitalisation, possibly delusional in his vague mistrust of old friends whom he does not want to let down.

Only two of them return from rowing on the lake, and the drama develops from there. Fossum's "villains" tend to have complex characters, so that she often succeeds in making you like them against your will, even wanting them to escape justice. In this case, my sympathy was limited, and I had none for the rather crudely drawn character of Axel.

Although I don't think this is Fossum's best work, and both some characters and plot threads could have been developed more, the story has moments of real tension, is often moving, and provides insights into Norwegian society – young people lacking much entertainment apart from drink and drugs, the vulnerability of immigrants living alone or in small isolated family units and underlying it all the implications of living in a freezing winter climate.

Fossum's aim seems to be simply to create a stark moral fable on the destructive nature of guilt, and the need for atonement, and in this she succeeds.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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