You can rely on Karin Fossum to never write a normal crime novel. And this is a very long way from being normal, even for a genre as diverse and unconventional as Scandi crime. The Whisperer does feature Fossum’s long-standing investigator, Inspector Sejer, but that’s about the only thing this story has in common with a typical police procedural. It’s not so much about the anatomy of a crime but an exploration of the psychopathy of a criminal – and what a sadly bedraggled, fragile and fragmented character she is.
I’m deliberately steering clear of almost all the major plotpoints in this review, to avoid compromising your reading experience. This is one of those books where it’s best that you encounter it fresh; where you have the chance to form your own opinions. The narrator is extremely unreliable but her perspective is pitifully convincing. It’s a magnificent construction of urban isolation; of melancholic paranoia, of abandonment and insecurity.
Fossum weaves these themes into the skein of everyday life. While most crime / thrillers take place in a fictional world which closely resembles our own – but which has its own dramatic conventions – the events of The Whisperer could be taken directly from our daily experience. Who sees the frightened woman who always sits in the same place on the bus every day? Who has time for the shop assistant who looks a bit bedraggled? Who bothers to ask if a neighbour is OK when she stumbles around the freezing streets wearing only slippers on her feet?
This means that much of the scene-setting segments in the earlier part of the story have a ‘so what?’ feel to them. But gradually the narrative moves past the miserable mundanity of a grim existence and we start to understand why the protagonist is in police custody, why Sejer is taking so long to question her so carefully. And we start to wonder about exactly what occurred in these banal little incidents, the ones which should be trivial but which take on an appalling importance as the story unfolds.
Slow burn? Definitely.
Page-turning thrill-a-minute? Definitely not.
This is a book for readers with patience and perception. My attention meandered a little in the opening chapters but gradually succumbed to the insidious lure of the inevitable – and to Fossum’s immense skill in constructing such solidly realised characters who endure such desperate situations. Spend too long immersed in this story and you too might start to feel uncertain and a little unsettled – and totally unprepared for the surprises in store.
Original, unpredictable and completely convincing, this is crime fiction for true connoisseurs.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Whisperer by Karin Fossum is available at Amazon
Looking for sophisticated crime fiction?Find THE CORRUPTION OF CHASTITY at Amazon