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The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel

The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel from the Norwegian, is the eighth book in her Inspector Konrad Sejer series of books.  It is not only a mystery with a adrenaline rush, but also a psychological examination of the criminal and victims minds.  Rather than a mystery that needs to be unraveled, Fossum creates an unsettling atmosphere that keeps readers on the edge.  What will happen next, how will the criminal again strike fear into those around him — neighbors, family, strangers.

And yes, this is a book about fear — the fear of death — the fear of death when it calls.  Death is always unexpected when it arrives, but what if you are lulled into an artificial sense of security by your own contented perceptions of your home and neighborhood?  What if something occurs that simply disrupts your preconceived notions of security?  Fossum asks these questions with each new prank and situation, and she ramps up the anxiety with each page turned.  From the very first pages, readers become aware that the Norwegian landscape will darken and tranquility will become tentative.

“Poor little thing, she thought, and tore its thighs off.  She liked the cracking sound the cartilage made when tearing from the bone.  Light and tender, the meat let go easily, and she succumbed to the temptation to stick a piece in her mouth.  It’s good, she thought, it has just enough seasoning, and it’s lean too.  She filled the pie dish and sprinkled on Cheddar cheese.  The she checked the time.  She didn’t worry about Margrete.  If the child sneezed she would know it immediately.  If she coughed or hiccuped, or began to cry, she would know.  Because there was a bond between them, a bond as thick as a mooring line.  Even the slightest tug would reach her like a vibration.”  (page 2)

However, it is the undercurrent under the surface plot that ripples beneath, providing just enough suspicion to keep readers wondering who the true criminal is.  Readers get a sense of Inspector Konrad Sejer as an honest man whose seen it all, but continues to work for the police as a way to ensure justice.  But readers also get to know how much his life has changed over the years and where his strength comes from — his family and young nephew Matteus.  His health may be failing, but the case is always important, pulling him away from his own misery into that of the victims and even the possible perpetrator.

When death calls, even in its mistiest form, The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel tackles the what ifs and the inevitability that comes with that visit, including the reassessment of behavior and routine, love, and perseverance.  The atmosphere of the novel is by turns complacent and topsy-turvy, and Fossum’s characters must navigate the new world into which they are thrust.

About the Author:

Karin Fossum is the author of the internationally successful Inspector Konrad Sejer crime series. Her recent honors include a Gumshoe Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller. She lives in a small town in southeastern Norway.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He has worked as the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year.  He is known for his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, and he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 71st book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.