Tuesday, October 11, 2016

HELL FIRE :: Karin Fossum

"It was always the small things, the links between people and where they could lead."

Karin Fossum is one of crime fiction's gems, and Hell Fire continues the stellar Inspector Konrad Sejer series set in her native Norway. By all accounts, Bonnie Hayden is simply a single mother eking out a living as a caretaker, beloved by her elderly clientele. But someone was enraged enough to butcher Bonnie and her young son in an abandoned camper, and Inspector Sejer must apprehend the monster with little in the way of evidence.

Alternating between the investigation and the months before the murders, Sejer's perspective is deftly woven with those of Bonnie and the Malthes, Mass and her co-dependent twenty-one-year-old son Eddie. Eddie, though not formally diagnosed, is troubled and obsessed with death. He searches the internet for execution methods, dreams of frying newborn chicks and tries desperately to find his father's grave. A connection between the families may begin to seem ominously obvious, but Fossum is crafty enough to create doubt.

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.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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