The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (a most excellent mystery, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

“The voice is a powerful tool,” Sejer said. “And you’ve lost yours. I used mine for all it is worth” (p. 208)

How is it I have never read Karin Fossum before? She has won the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel, an honor shared with Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Her Inspector Sejer series has been published in more than forty countries, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of him.

One of the things that compelled me about this book is the amount of compassion I felt toward each character. Ragna Reigal lives alone in the home she lived in as a child. Her parents are dead. Her son has moved to Berlin. She is all alone without a voice because surgery on her throat went awry, and all she can do is whisper.

She had the bag in her left hand, and with the right she opened the mailbox. Took out the local paper and church weekly, a brochure advertising furniture, and a very ordinary envelope. It was not often she got letters. Her surname was on the front fo the envelope: RIEGEL. Written in capital letters. She put her bag down on the ground. No address. No stamp. No sender. She stood under the street lamp and turned the envelope back forth. The paper was coarse, maybe recycled – it was thinner and grayer than normal paper. Goodness. A letter with no sender…she opened it and pulled out a folded sheet of paper with a short message.

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

How very alarming to receive such a message, which is only compounded when more of the same appear in her mailbox.

IT’S NOT LONG NOW.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

Interspersed with these messages we learn of her job at the Europrix, and her son, Rikard Josef, who does not live in Berlin after all. Nor does he manage an extravagant hotel as she has believed.

The most tender part is the way that Inspector Sejer questions her, gently helping her open up and reveal her story. Until he is not gentle anymore, but firm. She senses the change in his demeanor one day, and it is undeniable. Their relationship has taken on a suspicious edge.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this novel. More than a mystery, it was written with a fabulous ability to bring characters to life, to create an aura of compassion, to gradually build the tension from a whisper to a scream. It is the second book I have read for the R.I.P. XIV, and it is well worth looking for and reading as it has none of the typical American drama or anticipated conclusion.

21 thoughts on “The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (a most excellent mystery, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

  1. I’ve not read any of this author’s books either, though I has been minimally aware of her. Sometimes the Nordic books are a little depressing for me, but not all affect me that way. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    • Sometimes, the Nordic crime are so grotesque I can scarcely bear them. Or, they are so long I wonder if I’ll ever finish. (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I did not like.) But, this mystery read more like a poetic novel, with none of the feeling that my time was being wasted with a single word. I loved it, and I will read more of Karin Fossum as soon as I can.

      Last night, I began the Longmire series with A Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson. Have you read those? I like his sarcasm, although it is not quite as witty as Robert B. Parker’s was, and I love the Western feel. It reminds me of going to the country with my father when I was a little girl. He would take me on his cattle trips which I adored.

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      • I have read most of the Longmire books – my husband is completely caught up with maybe just the newest yet to read. Once upon a time, way back in 2008 or 2009, I scheduled A COLD DISH as one of the selections for our mystery book group to read. One woman was very unhappy that we would be reading a ‘Western’. I told her that it was not a ‘Western’ and just had a setting in the western US. She tried it, loved it, praised it all over the place. You just never know. I find that Craig Johnson has a lot of philosophy in his books, kind of like Louise Penny. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. So glad you discovered her. She’s one of my favourite authors. I like the way she looks at the impact of a crime on the perpetrator, the victim’s family and the community. Her books are not about who committed the crime but WHY they committed it. She’s very focused on cause and effect.

    I’ve not heard of this particular title… is it a new one?

    PS > My reviews of her work are here: https://readingmattersblog.com/category/author/karin-fossum/

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    • Exactly! Her books, or at least this one as it’s the only one I’ve yet read, look at the meaning of the crime, the inside of the characters. It was so much more than “just” the crime.

      This is a new one; I had heard of it somewhere and put a hold on it ages ago. It just came in, which is the reason I laid Moby Dick down temporarily. Do all of your books seem to come in at once?!

      I will come to the link it’s your thoughts. Trust you to know about Karin Fossum already. ☺️❤️

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    • Yay, you found a copy! I was on hold for it at our library forever.

      Perhaps you don’t know of my penchant for mysteries, which always seems a bit odd to me as a Christian. (Why would I like stories involving murder?) Yet, there it is. This one had me feeling so much compassion for Ragna. I will be eager to discuss the end with you when you get there.

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      • Yes. I put both copies on. I will discuss the end with you. I too like mysteries but I never thought it was odd to me as a Christian. Maybe some Christians find it odd. I have to do some study on this to know if it’s not right for us. I find that they teach us about the human soul, and there’s some element of faith being tested under these extreme events that truly happen.
        I have read The Pledge, and I wanted to mention I am also intrigued by the different treatment this Swedish (or Swiss?, I will come back to tell you), author gives to mysteries.
        It’ll be a great topic of study the different mystery traditions. The British, the American, Japanese, etc, they have very different ways of writing mysteries, and ending them.

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      • I’m amused that you find mysteries as possibly not Christian.

        They are but descendents of the old mystery/morality plays of a few centuries ago. The point was/is not the murder, but the battle between good and evil.
        Remember that the plays were demonstrations of Christian values for a public that was largely illiterate.As people became more and more literate, the plays changed along with them.

        Watch carefully over your shoulder as you read along, and you may catch the spirit of an old Church Father, (or three) reading along with you!

        The Chinese were at it too, but their purpose was way different.

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        • I see what you, Abby, and Sylvia are saying about the demonstration of Christian values/teaching us about human values…I guess I’m coming from the commandment that we should not murder (obviously!), and I feel a little guilty enjoying murder plots. Not enough to stop reading them, though.

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    • They can get pretty gruesome, Suko, especially (if I recall correctly) Stieg Larson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. And Jo Nesbo has some dark stuff. This is dark, as murders are by definition, but what captured me was the amount of compassion I felt for Ragna. Not to mention the later fourth of the book which was utterly compelling.

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    • Now I have to read her earlier works! This is the first I’ve read of hers, having only recently discovered her name. I love that so many of my blogging friends, such as you, know her well. xo

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    • I don’t like books which are too dark and gory, Nordic or not. (Stephen King comes to mind, here, with some of his novels.) I’m not sure if I’ve read any Golden Age mysteries; that would be something for me to look for. Thanks for visiting!

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  3. I have never heard of this author, but this book sounds like one I would really enjoy. I’m making a note to myself to look for a copy once we get back to Oregon. Thank you for such a lovely review, Meredith!

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