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The Whisperer: An Inspector Sejer Mystery

Review

The Whisperer: An Inspector Sejer Mystery

A newly published Inspector Konrad Sejer novel is always a joy to behold. We in the United States are a bit behind Karin Fossum’s publication schedule in her native Norway, but thanks to the efforts of her publisher and a fine translation by Kari Dickson, we are now able to read 2016’s THE WHISPERER, which is no less than a masterpiece in every conceivable way.

I am not engaging in hyperbole here. The Sejer books are not your typical police procedural (which, by and large, are usually quite good). What Fossum does with Sejer, a widowed Oslo, Norway police inspector who is by turns dour and compassionate, is a marvel. She gently flips the genre on its end with each outing and does so with great effect here. Sejer isn’t in THE WHISPERER all that much. When he is, it is to cajole and prompt a woman named Ragna Riegel, who is seated across a table from him in an interrogation room. Riegel is being held on a warrant for a crime that isn’t disclosed until well into the last third of the book. Sejer seems to believe that the police have her pretty much dead to rights, and the crime of which she is accused is a nasty one.

"...no less than a masterpiece in every conceivable way.... Reading this worthy book...will put Fossum on your must-read list, which is where she should be."

What makes THE WHISPERER stand out is the character study of Riegel that takes forms in short lines and brush strokes as the story proceeds. Some of it is revealed in Sejer’s interrogation. Other parts are made known through Riegel’s thoughts while she is in her cell and writing letters. Even more is uncovered in flashbacks. The full picture, which goes from the general to the specific, is that Riegel, a single woman in the midst of middle age, is a troubled soul. She leads an all but isolated existence (interrupted, of course, by her incarceration in the novel’s present), which consists of working as a store clerk and coming home to an empty house, eschewing attempts at friendship from her work pals, if you will.

I was barely a chapter or so into THE WHISPERER when I heard the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” playing in my head. I had it on “repeat” on the sound system by the time I finished. It is Riegel who is the whisperer of the title, the result of (according to her) a botched surgery that left her with a scar on her throat and an inability to speak in a volume above a whisper. The world is full of people like Riegel --- we all know at least one, and probably several --- who lead lives of quiet isolation, spending it in ways and manners of which we are only able to poorly guess. Sejer occasionally peels back a layer or two on his way to getting a confession to the crime that Fossum reveals almost reluctantly, a process that uncovers the truth about Riegel’s past as well, all of it leading to a slow-motion train wreck that startles immediately and haunts for days afterward.

You do not have to be familiar with any of the installments in this series to totally appreciate THE WHISPERER. Reading this worthy book, though, will put Fossum on your must-read list, which is where she should be.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 16, 2019

The Whisperer: An Inspector Sejer Mystery
by Karin Fossum

  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 1328614190
  • ISBN-13: 9781328614193