cover image Hell Fire

Hell Fire

Karin Fossum, trans. from the Norwegian by Kari Dixon. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-544-63337-7

Fossum’s superb 12th Inspector Sejer mystery (after 2015’s The Drowned Boy) opens on a hot summer day in 2005. Inside a disused recreational vehicle, parked in a cluster of trees in rural Norway, lie the bodies of single mother Bonnie Hayden and her four-year-old son, Simon. “Evil incarnate had snuck across the field and stabbed them with a knife,” Sejer muses as he examines the crime scene. Flashbacks to December 2004 show Bonnie, a generous woman who cleans the homes of the elderly and infirm, performing her menial duties with stoic dignity. These background scenes also focus on another single mother, Thomasine “Mass” Malthe, and her intelligent but odd 21-year-old son, Eddie, who has trouble dealing with the real world. Fossum explores many themes—most notably, the cruelties of fate—in what is less a police procedural than a portrait of a society in crisis. Few readers will be surprised by the murderer’s identity, but the slow, deliberate revelation of the story behind the crime is dramatic and heartbreaking. (Aug.)