Book review: Become one with a killer in “Harriet Krohn”

book cover of The Murder of Harriet Krohn by Karin Fossum

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

The Murder of Harriet Krohn is another remarkable book by Karin Fossum, Norway’s Queen of Crime. It is the seventh of the twelve crime novels in the Inspector Sejer series and the most recently translated and published in English.

Protagonist Charlo Torp has a nice life. He has a good job, a wonderful wife, and an adorable daughter. Then something goes terribly wrong. His life starts to fall apart.

Charlo begins to gamble and this vice soon develops into a serious addiction. He loses much more money than he wins. He finds himself deeper and deeper in debt. At a certain point he becomes so desperate that he appeals to criminal elements for money.

He then loses the two people dearest to him. His wife dies from an incurable disease, and his daughter, finding his behavior inexcusable, rejects him. He hits rock bottom. He needs to go straight. He needs to win back his daughter’s love and respect.

In order to turn his life around, he must first pay off his criminal debts, but he has no money. He decides to rob Harriet Krohn, a wealthy older woman. Then he will start his life anew on the right foot. He sincerely wants to become a respectable person again.

He makes careful plans for his robbery. He is confident that he can pull it off and then he will be able to focus on being a model citizen in his society. But he mistakenly thinks that his victim will readily give in to his demands and meekly hand over her valuables. She does not. Her rage overcomes her initial fear and she strikes out against the shocked Charlo. He does not want her to ruin his plan to change his life so he silences her. He leaves her dead on her kitchen floor.

He had not planned to kill her. He only wanted her silver and other valuables. He tries to forget about the matter of the murder and focus on starting a new life.

Harriet, of course, haunts him. Although he tries to convince himself that she forced him to commit the horrendous crime, he cannot help but feel guilty. He mustn’t be caught, however. He has to avoid punishment. He can atone for his evil deed by living a blameless life from now on.

Throughout the book the reader cannot help but pull for Charlo. He committed a brutal murder but he is probably no longer a danger to society. He has paid back his debts, he has an honest job, and he is developing a solid relationship with his daughter again. But—should he be punished? Society would, of course, think that he should.

For the entire book, Charlo is in the spotlight—or, should we say, under the microscope. We are his shadow. We follow his every action. We are inside his head. We know his every thought. Fossum does a brilliant job of making us almost at one with Charlo. We become Charlo.

We finally meet Inspector Sejer in the second half of the book. He plays a minor role until the last few pages. The ending is marvelous. As you listen to Sejer’s interrogation of Charlo, you begin to wonder what his punishment should be. How should he atone for his crime? Is it one size fits all or should other variables be taken into consideration? In the long run, what is the best solution for Charlo? For society?

The Murder of Harriet Krohn is an intriguing book that is very hard to put down. It is definitely one of Fossum’s best.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.