Many thriller writers have attempted to take us inside the mind of a psychopath. Few have succeeded with such understated elegance as Karin Fossum does here. This appalling yet enthralling stand-alone novel convincingly describes the inner landscape of the quiet man, the loner, the secret sadist, the malcontent misanthrope who knows himself to be superior to normal people. He delights in tormenting vulnerable patients who depend upon him for care and medication, while passing sinister judgment on those people he casually encounters in what passes for a life.
Inevitably, his disregard for human dignity ends in brutal, heartless murder… but not in the way you might expect from the opening chapters of the tale.
And such is the sinister skill of the author’s storytelling, that I found myself not only intrigued by the protagonist’s dilemma, but actively rooting for him to evade the investigators and subvert justice. Fossum creates a thoroughly repellent and utterly unlikeable character, yet builds a narrative from his perspective which snares the reader in his skewed reality.
The writing and translation are atmospheric and disturbing, but easily accessible. The first few chapters are a little uneven and tricky to engage with as we’re introduced to the strange character through his opinions of other people, but rapidly the plot takes over and then the pages fly by. Several scenes are disconcertingly effective, like the moment when the central character dispassionately watches a drowning man in the same way a normal person might observe a dying fly…
Set in Norway, the subtext of the story comments on the Scandinavian justice system as well as the controversial subject of social care for the elderly and infirm. You can read it at either level: a psychological thriller about a criminally insane sociopath, or a more thoughtful commentary about social exclusion of different kinds.
Either way, it’s an accomplished, uncomfortable read. Brilliant, but not the type of thriller for light entertainment.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
I Can See In The Dark by Karin Fossum is available as an ebook or paperback