Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

280346._sy475_Fiction – print. Translated from the Norwegian by Felicity David. Mariner Books, 2005. Originally published 2004. 320 pgs. Purchased.

Near the base of Kollen Mountain, a little girl leaves her friend’s home after a sleepover and sets out with her toys, including a baby buggy, for the short walk home. Along the way, the little girl encounters neighbors who hastily say hello as they head to work until one man stops to offer her a ride home.

A few hours later, Inspector Konrad Sejer is called out the village on the report of a missing child. The search fails to find the little girl, who is dropped off unharmed at home by her alleged kidnapper, but it does locate the body of another girl on the banks of a mountain lake.

The victim is identified as Annie Holland, a well-liked teenager who often babysat for her neighbors and was well-known for her skill at handball. As Sejer tries to piece together what happened to Annie, he begins uncovering a wealth of secrets in this small town: the conviction of Annie’s handball coach for rape a decade ago, the older boyfriend Annie recently reconnected with, and the accidental death of one of Annie’s babysitting charges.

Fossum’s novel starts with a jarring introduction as readers watch a young girl be kidnapped by a stranger. I assumed the trajectory of the novel from the first page; a little girl would be murdered with the detective assigned to her case struggling to piece together events the reader already knows.

This assumption is why I started the book in February and set it aside after 53 pages. I didn’t want to read a book about the murder of a small child. But I kept the book on hand because it won the Glass Key Award in 1997 and because my mom gave it a five-star review on GoodReads.

I can’t say I managed to find the same avid enthusiasm for Fossum’s novel as my mom did, but the shift in focus after 55 or so pages surprised me and forced me to rethink my assumptions about this novel’s plot. And the final passage of the novel adds a shocking, confusing twist to the novel that I did not expect at all.

I also appreciated how well-crafted the large cast of characters were. There are several potential suspects into Annie’s murder, but not one stood out because they were more developed than the others. My accurate guess of the identity of the murderer was due to logic rather than Fossum tipping her hand too early.

That said, I still finished the novel feeling underwhelmed by it. I may have gone in with too high expectations, but I found the writing style to be more cumbersome and convoluted than I would have expected from an award-winning novel.

At several points, the narrative switches from one character’s perspective to another, which becomes a problem when the reader hasn’t yet been introduced to that character or when the character fails to use names in his or her conversation. Rather frustrating and confusing.

That said, to repeat what I wrote in my review of the first novel in Fossum’s Konrad Sejerseries, I wouldn’t be surprised if more of Fossum’s novels followed me home from the library in the future. I’m perfectly content to work through a slightly confusing writing style if the crime is complex and genuinely surprising.

This is my eighth book for #20BooksofSummer. My mother read this book in May 2017 and, given her book acquisition habits, likely bought it at a used book sale in Montana. I borrowed it from her sometime in the summer of 2017, likely thinking I’d read it on the plane ride home to Boston only to shelve it among all my other unread books.

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