Black Seconds (Inspector Sejer Mysteries)
Black Seconds (Inspector Sejer Mysteries)
Karin Fossum
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008
272 pp., $24.00

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Reviewed by Joseph Bottum


The latest book from Norwegian mystery novelist Karin Fossum centers on the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl.

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She needn't have tried, at least with the plot problem. Of course, in procedurals, the writer's ability to hide the solution matters less than in other sub–genres of mystery fiction. One whole set of procedurals—beginning all the way back in 1907 with the first of R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke mysteries—even opens the story by telling the reader who did the crime. But Fossum intends the revelation of the culprit to be a surprise, and any reasonably competent mystery reader will see who it is on page 21, when . . . um, no, I won't reveal it here, but just read the page and tell me I'm wrong.

The earlier Inspector Sejer novels, particularly When the Devil Holds the Candle and The Indian Bride, probably deserved the acclaim they received, but this sixth volume doesn't promise much for the two as–yet–untranslated books in the series. In the end, what does Karin Fossum's Black Seconds offer? The chance to read a talented writer, yes, but otherwise just atmospherics without an atmosphere and mysteriousness without a mystery. It's not enough—as Agatha Christie would have known.

Joseph Bottum is the editor of First Things.

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