Book Review: The Caller, by Karin Fossum

The Caller (Inspecter Sejer 8), written by Karin Fossum and translated from the Norwegian by K.E. Semmel. This is my second book by this author, her latest and the eighth book in the Inspector Konrad Sejer series, that’s only out in the UK as I write this. Karin Fossum is the master at creating quiet moments that subsequently build up in intensity and suspense. That’s her trademark. Another strength is her recreating the daily minutiae of regular, everyday people whose lives are suddenly changed as a result of a crime. For her latest, we watch as the community reacts/responds when someone carries out cruel jokes on random strangers. In her usual style, the author peers closely at how these crimes affect each victim’s life and that of the intrusive offender while at the same time trying to solve the case.

The story begins with a sinister feeling of sorts, in third person narrative, with a happily married couple enjoying their dinner together while their infant daughter sleeps soundly and quietly in the garden. Out of the shadows comes a stranger, who quietly sneaks up to the pram, while the parents are oblivious to the danger. If this were a movie, you all would shriek in horror at the most likely scenarios. Thus begins a wave of crime and terror as Inspector Konrad Sejer and his partner, Jacob Skarre try to find a jokester who finds amusement in other people’s pain and misery. The tricks are cruel and before they begin in earnest, Inspector Sejer receives an ominous postcard telling him of what’s to come. An elderly woman, idly contemplating her mortality and still in good health, reads her own obituary in the newspaper. A man in the last stages of ALS finds a hearse parked in his driveway, invited there by an anonymous caller. Ultimately, these antics get more serious and snowball out of control.

The person pulling the pranks is a 17-year-old kid with a moped and too much time on his hands. He lives with his alcoholic mother who emotionally abuses him. His feelings towards his mother and towards society in general is one of hate and bitterness. In order to make himself feel better, Johnny Beskow likes to pull nasty tricks on people. He thinks he’s teaching them a lesson and as a result, he feels “invisible” and “powerful” in what he does to undermine people’s sense of security. He’s also a watcher. He enjoys watching people in their moments of anguish and despair.

The only person Johnny cares about is his grandfather, who he visits with daily. When his grandfather speaks badly of the anonymous prankster, not knowing that it’s his own grandson (I suspect that he does), this draws Johnny up short and makes him reflect on his actions. In his mind, he thought the things he did was just “harmless jokes.” Typical kid logic. But, what he doesn’t realize is that his jokes have had an negative impact of people’s lives and has also caused ill will towards him, that, ultimately, comes back to haunt him.

Can anyone say that they enjoy a Karin Fossum book? You don’t really enjoy it (if you know what I mean?). Her novels are thoughtfully written out and for the most part they can be quite credible. If I had to be critical, I did find some scenes a bit tedious and slow. While there is a mystery within these pages, the solving of it is hardly the focus. It’s the offender/victims who we spend the most time with. The investigation is more in the background.

Inspector Sejer, the main protagonist of this series, doesn’t have a lot of scenes in here compared to the previous book (see The Indian Bride). He is involved in solving the case and is going through some personal drama of his own. Karen Fossum’s stories are all about human nature. She likes to study man’s vulnerability. The outcomes in her novels are not so neatly tied up and I like that. However, there are no questions about how this book ended though. I can’t say that I was surprised by the ending but I am clearly disappointed at the outcome. My grade, B.

Other reviews of The Caller: Maxine at Petrona has a positive review and . . . that’s it. Looks like we’re the only two readers to have blogged about the book. Update: Karen from Euro Crime also reviewed this book as well.

About Keishon

I love reading crime fiction.
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8 Responses to Book Review: The Caller, by Karin Fossum

  1. Karen M says:

    Great review. I enjoyed (!) her earlier books more. I reviewed this one for euro crime website: http://eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/The_Caller.html

  2. Darlynne says:

    I was intrigued by the story as you described it, but find it hard-going when (a) any portion of a book contains the criminal/killer’s POV and (b) is not something one can enjoy in the strict sense of the word. My antipathy for the criminals is simply that they do not deserve my time and I do not care what horrible experiences turned them into what they are; the police/investigators, always, and their work to solve crimes, hold my respect, admiration and interest.

    OTOH, I love Stuart Neville’s Gerry Fegan, who is definitely a killer and whose story is so, so far from “enjoyable” (ditto Ken Bruen and Stuart MacBride). Apparently my aversions can be boxed up and stored away when the author makes me care so deeply about such a character. Would you say that Karin Fossum’s books do the same?

    • Keishon says:

      Darlynne, I know exactly what you are saying but the villain in here is a 17 year old kid who doesn’t know any better. He does horrible things but he didn’t come off as evil. He’s able to show some remorse for his actions (albeit implied). As you know, I was intrigued with Gerry Fegan as a character and know what you’re asking but I am still exploring Karin Fossum’s backlist so I cannot answer your question. Maybe after a few more books I’ll be able to answer that for you.

  3. Maxine says:

    Very good review. I think you have put your finger on some of the appealing (to me) aspects of Fossum – she’s unflinching like a laser, but does not need to get into splatter, etc, while delivering chills. Her books aren’t as simple as they may seem at first.

  4. Oh dear, it sounds as if Fossum is in excellent shape!

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