The American publication of decades’ worth of Nordic noir novels is happening so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. I’m not complaining, mind you; all readers’ problems should be so enjoyable. One of the many worthy titles that rises to the top is EVA’S EYE, the first of the Inspector Konrad Sejer mysteries written by Norwegian author Karin Fossum and, in this instance, translated by James Anderson. It was first published in Norway in 1995; while there are a few anachronisms --- most notably, the presence of call boxes or, as we called them here, “phone booths,” and the absence of cell phones --- the tale is as fresh and quietly exhilarating as it undoubtedly was when first published almost two decades ago.
"...as fresh and quietly exhilarating as it undoubtedly was when first published almost two decades ago."
Sejer is the quiet but solid and dependable linchpin of the series, an Oslo police inspector who is often dispatched to some of the small towns and villages that surround the city to investigate matters of urgency, such as disappearances or foul play. EVA’S EYE begins with a woman named Eva Magnus and her young daughter, Emma. Eva, a struggling artist who raises self-absorption and self-justification to an art form, is with Emma in a park when they discover a body floating in a river. It is obvious that Eva recognizes the dead man, but her actions are puzzling. She tells Emma to wait while she calls the police, but only pantomimes that action for Emma’s benefit. The authorities find the body in due course, and Sejer and his team are assigned to the investigation, in no small part because Egil, the victim, had been missing for some six months, and Sejer had been looking into his disappearance.
Egil’s corpse displays multiple stab wounds, but what is even more interesting to Sejer is that the man disappeared three days after a local prostitute was murdered. Though it is never stated outright, it is obvious that Sejer abhors coincidence. He begins looking for a connection between the two seemingly unrelated killings and finds it soon enough with Eva. As he slowly but surely brings her around to telling the truth, odd twists and turns are revealed as Eva, in an extended third-person narration, reveals in fascinating detail what transpired some six months previously and resulted in the deaths of two people. The largest and most horrific revelation, however, is reserved for the ending and comes to Eva rather than from her.
Sejer is an immediately likable character, low-key but persistent, a quietly driven man who more often than not finds himself to be the smartest guy in the room. A widower and grandfather, his primary companion is his dog, who acts as an understated foil to his occasional dry humor while accompanying him on his investigations. But the real star of the book is Eva, whose lack of introspection would be startling were it not so typical. This is not to say that she is totally unlikable --- she gets on well with her ex-husband, obviously loves her daughter, and looks after her father, albeit intermittently. It is this balance between character and plot that makes each Sejer novel so worthwhile, whether one is a fan of mysteries or otherwise.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 15, 2013