"It was always the small things, the links between people and where they could lead."
Fossum doesn't normalize violence, and while Sejer takes a secondary role in the plot, he is used effectively to show the impact of brutality on those in its wake. Hell Fire is more a compelling study of character and hardscrabble living than a strict procedural, and even the most dismal scenes and mundane tasks are absorbing. The plot is a tight, slow burn that details the hardships of two mothers and their sons, putting them through the wringer as the date of the murders approaches and their lives intersect.
STREET SENSE: Hell Fire reads like a documentary view of life on society's fringes. I appreciated Fossum's real-world view. There are no superheroes here, no fantastical discovery or event that makes this story sensational. It's gritty reality, from both ends of the murder. This is the first of Fossum's Inspector Sejer series that I've read, but it certainly won't be the last.
A FAVORITE PASSAGE: Bonnie looked at his large white ear, and thought suddenly that it reminded her of a beautiful conch shell. She wondered, if she put her ear to his, whether she would hear the sound of his long life. Which was over now.
COVER NERD SAYS: Hell Fire's cover is somewhat plain and basic, yet the fire image remains provocative. I think Fossum's name might be the biggest draw here, so couldn't argue with a larger font on that front, even though I really like the way her name sits on this cover. The fiery image alone would probably get me to pick this one up, but wouldn't be enough to get me to purchase it without knowing more.
A version of this review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.