Book review: Fossum’s Hell Fire


Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Norwegian Karin Fossum is one of the most interesting crime writers in the field today. She creates little suspense in her novels. She presents the crime, describing what has happened and identifying the victim or victims. But soon thereafter she introduces the perpetrator. The reader, therefore, knows who the guilty party is from the beginning. What incentive then does the reader have to continue reading?

There is always an incentive!

In her latest book, Hell Fire, Bonnie, a beautiful young mother, and her four-year-old son Simon are brutally murdered with a knife that has a long, thin blade, the kind used to fillet meat or fish. Inspector Sejer and his deputy Skarre begin the investigation. Then Eddie is introduced. He is the perpetrator—or is he?

The story does not continue in linear fashion as is frequently the case with post-modern novels. The crime takes place on July 6, 2005, and Sejer’s investigation proceeds in linear fashion. But the pasts and presents of Bonnie and Eddie weave in and out. The connection between Bonnie and Eddie is not clear and the reader, therefore, is caught up in the story in order to find out why Eddie would want to kill Bonnie and her young child. What possible motive would he have to kill them with such overwhelming ferocity? An incentive to continue reading is definitely there.

Bonnie’s husband left her for a younger woman shortly after the birth of their son. She is struggling to make ends meet. She has a difficult job as a home health aide. She visits her lonely clients to clean their homes and to provide them with the attention they yearn for. The work is exhausting and not always pleasant. But she is diligent and knows that she is providing a valuable service. She worries about her son because she must leave him at daycare every morning and he suffers from severe separation anxiety. She also feels very bad that she is not able to provide him with many material things.

Eddie also lives with a single mother, Mass (short for Thomasine). He was born with a mental disability, which his father soon realized he could not handle so he left. Mass, on the other hand, loves her son and has infinite patience with him. Like Bonnie she too has financial problems. She stays at home with Eddie as he is unable to function on his own and they live on his disability checks. At the time of the crime, he is a young man of 21.
Toward the end of the novel, the connection between the two families is revealed and, as is usually the case in Fossum’s novels, the reader feels compassion for both the victims and the perpetrator while, of course, abhorring the vicious crime.

Karin Fossum’s Hell Fire (2016), translated by Kari Dickson from the original Norwegian Helvetesilden (pictured), is available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and philosophy of education, and a doctorate in international education.

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