Author, Book review, Books in translation, crime/thriller, Fiction, Karin Fossum, Norway, Publisher, Setting

‘Don’t Look Back’ by Karin Fossum


Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 252 pages; 2003. Translated from the Norwegian by Felicity David.

A sleepy Norwegian village is rocked by the discovery of a teenage girl’s naked body lying on the edge of a local, secluded lake. Did she kill herself? Or was she the victim of a sexual attack?

But there’s much more to this crime than meets the eye, as Inspector Sejer soon discovers. The victim, for instance, was an extremely popular girl in the neighbourhood, but she had recently become withdrawn and had quit her school’s handball team despite being a top-notch player. She had also stopped her regular babysitting work. Her mother puts this change in behaviour down to puberty; her father thinks there’s slightly more going on; Sejer wonders if she might have been raped.

There’s little evidence of who committed the murder but several locals fall under suspicion, including a disabled man, a teacher and the girl’s boyfriend. Without giving away the ending, it’s always the person you least expect, isn’t it?

Ultimately, Don’t Look Back, by Karin Fossum, is a fast-moving, well-paced crime thriller that had me guessing all the way through, which is rather rare for me: I normally guess the ending long before I reach the final page.

The prose is straightforward, clear and concise and the dialogue is realistic.

It has a convincing set of characters, especially Inspector Sejer, a widower still mourning the death of his wife, who is smart, tough and fatherly. I liked him enormously.

And the atmosphere — both of the cloying community stunned by the crime, and the sense of dread that builds as the investigation progresses — is pretty much perfect.

On the strength of this one book I’ve already added the remainder of Fossum’s back catalogue to my wish list.

17 thoughts on “‘Don’t Look Back’ by Karin Fossum”

  1. If you like Karin Fossum you should try Karin Ekman’s Blackwater – it takes a while to get going but this dark, haunting evocation of a Sweden that is a long way from Stockholm or Malmo made quite an impression on me. A young couple are murdered but the aftershock of this tragedy takes a years to unfold in a small and isolated community. Ekman’s delivery is flat and she seems to do little to engage the reader with her characters – but stick with it…


  2. I’m sure I posted a comment on this the other night, but typepad must have eaten it. I loved this book, and the follow up. I must get around to reading the next two. (or maybe there are more by now.)


  3. I really enjoyed this book but couldn’t get into the second one in the series at all. I don’t know if it was just that I wasn’t in the mood for a mystery or what. I’ll check it out again though.


  4. Maxine, you did leave a comment but it was under the post in which I said I was reading the Fossum book, so, no, you’re not going mad! 😉 According to Amazon there are 5 more in the series. I will definitely be following these up…
    iliana, that’s a pity. I very much enjoyed this book, so am looking forward to reading more by Fossum in the future.


  5. Yay! So glad you liked it – isn’t it just perfect for when you’re feeling poorly (which I think was what you were looking for at the time). I agree with you about Jewish comments – really jarred in an otherwise wonderful book.
    I haven’t quite finished it yet myself, but recommend Persephone’s THE MAKING OF A MARCHIONESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett as your next stop in entertaining books about feisty heroines.
    And just to whet your appetite – Persephone are having a sale at their shop next Tuesday!


  6. Equinano, thank-you so much for recommending this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve got two days holiday next week, so may take myself off to Persephone for a pre-Christmas treat!


  7. This is one of my favourite Persephone Books, witty, delightful and guaranteed tolift one’s spirits and all beautifully illustrated with wonderful sparky black and white drawings. A gem.
    Making of a Marchioness another of my most favourite Persephones. Please look out for another one by FH Burnett The Shuttle coming out in March 2007 which I have been lobbying Nicola to reprint for about two years. Hooray! May I also recommend my favourite Persephone of them all, The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I had better stop now or else the list will be too long


  8. Elaine, I don’t know who Nicola is, but I assume she works at Persephone, so congratulations on some successful lobbying! Will keep my eye out for “The Shuttle”.


  9. This is a bit late, but I have a lot of catching up to do; I’ve just finished “He Who Fears the Wolf.” It started strong, and just grew on me. I think I have acquired a true Karin Fossum jones.
    I guessed correctly who had done it, but that made little difference because the novel’s psychological atmosphere was so compelling — and so humane. I’ve posted some comments on my blog about the book, if you’re interested:
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”


  10. An interesting book–one that I think is subtler than the reviewer thinks. Miss LaFosse and the others inhabit a world (the theater and club scene in preWar London)–that is populated by Jews–a fact that Miss Pettigrew fails to realize. Her remarks about Jews are met with indifference because both Miss LaFosse and Miss DuBarry know that Miss Pettigrew is out of her depth. She is, after all, quite provincial. The final irony comes at the end of the book: Miss Pettigrew’s new beau is Joe Blomfield is clearly a Jewish. It would seem that Winifred Watson is having a bit of fun with Miss Pettigrew as well as the reader.


  11. thank you for this post- Of course Miss Pettigrew is out of her dept. I think that the modern reader misses all the cues here – Miss Pettigrew wonders if Phil is Jewish – with a name like Phil Goldberg! and a man who is a theatrical impresario? A contemporaneous reader would instantly know that Joe Blomfield, a man working in the rag trade, designing corset is more than likely Jewish. Winifred Watson is having fun with Miss Pettigrew and her misconceptions.


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