REVIEW: I CAN SEE IN THE DARK BY KARIN FOSSUM

I CAN SEE IN THE DARK

Author: Karin Fossum
Harvill Secker RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Front CoverWell, I’ve just found another Scandinavian crime writer to add to my growing watch list: Norway’s queen of crime Karin Fossum is new to me, but based on my experience of her book, I Can See in the Dark, I doubt she’ll remain that way. First released in 2011, I Can See in the Dark has just been translated to English; it’s a fairly short book and I read it fast, feeling both enthralled and unsettled by the experience.

Riktor works in a nursing home in Løkka and is a self-confessed loner, preferring the company of himself to others (although he confesses to wanting a relationship with a woman since he’s never had one). In his mind, people think he’s a polite, quiet, normal man who goes about his job and life without fuss. When he’s not working, he often spends time in a nearby park, watching others and pointing out to the reader their not-so-normal aspects (in his eyes), such as Arnfinn, who’s a drunk and Miranda, who’s disabled. While Riktor constructs this image for others, he lets the reader in on the more disturbing aspects of his personality. He likes to torment the nursing home patients: he pinches, pokes (verbally and physically), hides or swaps medication, and even withholds food from his helpless victims. He watches a man die, but does not raise the alarm or tell anyone what he witnessed. And he kills a man, violently and coldly, before burying him in his garden.

When a policeman walks in without knocking, Riktor is annoyed. He doesn’t like the way the policeman looks around the house, coolly assessing, but not immediately saying why he’s there. Assuming the policeman is looking for a missing man, Riktor stays quiet … until he is accused of another crime altogether. The death of a nursing home patient looks suspicious and all eyes are on Riktor. Locked in a prison, awaiting trial, Ricktor seethes with the injustice of it – he may not have a clear conscience, but he doesn’t like being falsely accused. Nor does he like the sense that others have the upper hand. Will he prove his innocence? Or will his darker side catch up with him?

Anti-hero Riktor narrates this unusual and disturbing tale, taking the reader into the mind of a sociopathic personality. It’s not a nice place to be: Riktor shows no empathy or remorse, suffers grandiose thinking, he’s manipulative and cunning, and uses his “personality disorder” to escape responsibility. That’s just the start. Through Riktor, Fossum guides the reader into a difficult place – the murky depths of the mind – but does it in a way that the reader still maintains a sense of separation. Riktor’s back story is hinted at, but he shares little. All he says is that he has no family, no one at all. His childhood appears to have been blocked aside from an incident where another child said he resembled a pike because of his unusually sharp teeth. Where the reader could have had some sympathy for Riktor if he’d had a bad childhood, or at least understood the root cause for his actions, instead the reader is left with emptiness. This approach serves to emphasise Riktor’s callousness and allows the reader to, as I mentioned earlier, separate from him. The other unusual aspect of this novel is that it’s not a police procedural with a detective or team of investigators figuring out “whodunnit”. Instead, it’s Riktor and “he-dunnit” … but why? Will readers (and other characters) ever really understand Riktor the way he wants, or will they be left in the dark?

It’s hard to like being in Riktor’s warped mind, but as a celebration of excellent writing I really did enjoy this book. Fossum’s writing is spot on – it’s sharp and precise, yet expressive and nuanced at the same time. I Can See in the Dark is intense, challenging, sprinkled with shades of grey, and very clever. I’m certainly on the look out for more books by this talented writer and I think I’ll start with her award-winning Inspector Konrad Sejer series.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House.

Bookish treat: It’s snack time and I am hearing the call of chocolate. Resist!