What Is It About Scandinavian Crime Series? Introducing Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions
Scandinavian crime fiction, replete with bleak landscapes, graphic violence, and heavy-drinking detectives, is surprisingly popular; consider the success of Stieg Larsson's trilogy or Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole novels. In addition to these greats, there is a lesser-known Norwegian writer you should acquaint yourself with: Karin Fossum. She is the author of a translated series of suspense novels that feature Inspector Konrad Sejer, a stoic detective who prefers the company of his dog and his whiskey. A man of measured words, he is skilled at analyzing people and penetrating their social masks. Fossum's eighth Inspector Sejer thriller, Bad Intentions, is a story of a friendship gone wrong, the weight of guilt, and Sejer's investigation of two disturbing deaths.
The story is set in Norway and begins as three young men, best friends since childhood, go on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods by a lake. Axel is the controlling, confident ringleader. Reilly is an emotional follower who likes to get high. And Jon is on overnight leave from a mental hospital. There is tension in the cabin, and by the end of the weekend Jon has drowned in the lake. His friends claim it was suicide. But when Inspector Sejer hears that Jon had been improving in the hospital and another body is discovered in a nearby lake, Sejer starts suspecting foul play.
Things get complicated for Axel and Reilly when they realize Jon kept a diary in the hospital. Their friendship was not what it seemed. And as Sejer gets closer to the truth, the two remaining friends begin to break down in very different ways. Loyalties are tested, trust disintegrates, and off-kilter behavior takes over. In an interesting turn, the mothers of the two drowned men find solace in each other -- despite what appears to be a dangerous connection between their dead sons -- and plan their own revenge. When Sejer finally untangles the mystery, we are stunned at how possible it all seems.
In fact, that is Fossum's understated strength. Ordinary situations are ominous in her hands. Often small choices upend a life. She develops her characters' emotional and day-to-day lives so we connect with them and understand the mistakes they have made. One wonders if the crimes could have been perpetrated by any of us in that situation. So, if you're looking for a worthy new Scandinavian crime series, start with Bad Intentions and then carry on to read the other novels: Fossum and Inspector Sejer do not disappoint.