Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Drowned Boy – Karin Fossum

Crime Fiction 3*s
Psychological Thriller
3*s

This is my second read in the Inspector Sejer series of which this is the eleventh in the series and after reading The Murder of Harriet Krohn last year, I had high hopes.

The story starts strongly with Inspector Sejer visiting a young couple whose sixteen month old son Tommy has drowned in a pond at the bottom of their garden. Tommy had been sat naked, one hot August day. His nineteen year old mother Carmen was busy preparing lunch and attending to household chores while his twenty year old father Nikolai was in the basement fixing bicycle. While Carmen was rinsing socks in the bathroom Tommy used his new-found walking skill and toddled to the water’s edge, by the time Carman located him he was in the water and despite the couple’s best efforts to revive him, he was dead.

Inspector Sejer relies on his intuition and although the mother, Carmen, weeps copiously and her husband Nikolai is in shock, much quieter, but clearly devastated, he suspects there is more to the accident than Carmen is letting on and is determined to find the truth.

I’m not sure whether it was the translation or the original writing but this story felt a bit flat to me with the limited outcomes to the story being obvious from the start and the characterisation simply didn’t shine through as they had in her previous novel (the translator’s for each book were different.) This wouldn’t have been a problem, as I think this author’s style is far more of the ‘slow burn’ variety but with no real depth to the characters, I felt that the powerful nature of the story didn’t come through as strongly as it could have.

The underlying premise of the book examines the ripple effect of a tragic incident. Not only for the parents, Carmen’s devoted father Marian, the police and to some extent everyone who crossed the path of this family were touched by the tragedy. It also examines our expectation of parenthood. Tommy had been born with Down’s syndrome and part of Sejer’s investigation led him to question himself and his Christian colleague Skarre on whether they would want a pregnancy to continue if tests indicated this before birth. These are huge questions and uncomfortable ones. The discomfort only gets worse when we witness through the words of her diary Carmen’s own reaction to her son’s disability, making this a difficult read.

The book is set over a number of months following the incident with the focus being on a court case where Carmen’s account will be judged to see if she was negligent or perhaps worse that day or will the outcome be as she expects and she is exonerated of any wrong-doing on that bright sunny August morning.

For those of you like me that haven’t followed this series from the beginning, don’t worry, this book can be enjoyed in its own right as a stand-alone read.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Random House Vintage imprint for allowing me to read a copy of this book for review purposes ahead of publication on 4 June 2015.

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

12 thoughts on “The Drowned Boy – Karin Fossum

  1. Karin Fossum is one of those consistenly good Scandinavian authors, whose ‘slow burn’ books have a way of getting underneath your skin. This one is on my reading list, but it’s a shame you felt that the translation may have made it feel a bit flat.

    1. I liked the premise and the story it was the way some of the sentiments that Sejer had about the mother were repeated word for word during the book, I have a feeling the original was probably far more nuanced. There was still a lot to enjoy and the novel tackles some deep issues.

  2. Just goes to show you, Cleo, how important translation can be. I’m a fan of Fossum’s, and I think her stories really are compelling. The suspense creeps up on you, so to speak. Sorry to hear this one didn’t quite live up; so much depends on a good translation.

    1. It does indeed Margot – I just felt it was a bit heavy and I have to conclude that it was the translation although there was still a lot to think about in this book with some ‘big’ questions being asked.

  3. Hmmm….I haven’t read this author as yet. I do think that the issues you mentioned would be difficult to read about and certainly are controversial and thought provoking. But, for me, the story has to have a bit of oomph to get me through. Good to hear your thoughts.

    1. It is a tough read because of the issues, and yet sometimes it is good to have something that challenges your thought process. It did need a little more oomph or perhaps a lighter touch with the writing/translation.

  4. I have read a couple of Karin Fossum books in the past and wasn’t that keen. I felt I should have liked them more but couldn’t. Thinking about the translation it might be why. It is so important.

    1. It is so difficult to know with translated books how much your enjoyment is down to the original tale and how much down to the language – I enjoyed The Murder of Harriet Krohn more because the writing flowed much better.

  5. Pity it didn’t quite live up to its cover – sorry you didn’t enjoy it more. To be honest, I’m not sure the subject matter really appeals to me anyway – maybe I’ll be persuaded to try a different one in the series at some point in the future.

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