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.