Book III – He Who Fears the Wolf
A psychiatric patient escapes from a mental institution, an elderly woman is found murdered on the steps of her cottage in the woods, and a boy from a group home reports the death to local police chief, revealing that he saw the escapee near the scene. Inspector Sejer takes the case, and the very next day a bank robbery/hostage-taking changes everything, ratcheting up tension due to its startling impact on the original case.
The story involves several disturbed individuals, convincingly portrayed, and the psychological drama that plays out between them is every bit as compelling as the police procedural, Sejer’s and his colleagues’ painstaking investigations into the two crimes.
I’m fully aware that “painstaking” sounds rather at odds with “compelling” but Karin Fossum has cleverly imbued Inspector Sejer with investigative skills that I find fascinating to “watch” as he interviews witnesses and studies the meager clues in this case.
The skill that particularly stands out in He Who Fears the Wolf is Sejer’s exceptional powers of observation, the first instance being when he rather inadvertently becomes a witness in the bank robbery/hostage-taking incident. As Sejer is on his way to work the morning after he’s taken the murder case, he suddenly notices a young man on the crowded sidewalk whose manner and dress trouble him.
It turns out that the man is a bank robber and Sejer’s uneasiness was justified; as a witness, he is called upon to work with a police sketch artist to come up with a description of the bank robber.
Sejer at first thinks back to how the man looked, what he was wearing, etc, worried that he might have forgotten the man’s facial features, but the artist surprises him:
“Forget the details. Close your eyes. Try to see his figure in front of you and concentrate on what kind of impression he makes. What kind of signals is this person sending? He comes walking towards you down the street in broad daylight, and for some reason you notice him. Why?”
“He seemed so tense. So full of something.”
Sejer shut his eyes as requested and visualised the man. Now the face was merely a bright, hazy patch in his memory. “His steps were quick and firm. His shoulders hunched. A mixture of fear and determination. Panic lurking just below the surface. So afraid that he didn’t dare glance up and look at anyone, even for an instant. Not exactly a professional bank robber. He was too desperate.”
As we might expect, Sejer proves to be an excellent witness and helps the artist produce a credible likeness of the robber, but what I find more interesting is that with the artist’s prompting Sejer also identifies crucial details that suggest the suspect’s state of mind prior to the robbery. What he sees appears to give him intuitive insight into an individual’s character.
Following the bank robbery, at the scene:
“Sejer quietly observed the young woman teller who had just been robbed. She was as white as a sheet, with beads of sweat on her forehead, but she wasn’t hurt. All she had done was raise her hand to pick up several bundles of notes from a shelf and place them on the counter. Yet it was obvious that from now on her life would never be the same. She might think about making her will. Not that she had much to bequeath in all likelihood, but it was the kind of thing she’d think should be taken care of while there was still time. He sat down next to her and spoke gently.
“Are you all right?”
She began to sob.
Again, as Sejer finishes discussing a detail of the robbery scene with the forensic technicians: “He took another look at the teller. Her eyes had taken on that particular gleam that meant she’d been shaken out of the life she’d taken for granted. He understood, and yet he didn’t. ”
What I get from this is not just a sense that Sejer is empathetic, but that he’s confirming another small piece of knowledge from this close observation and adding it to his understanding of how traumatic events impact a person’s life and character.
For those who have yet to read He Who Fears the Wolf, following Sejer’s progress as he investigates the meager clues left after the old woman’s murder should prove a treat.
Before I say G’night, I want to note that Fossum has once more planted a nod to the next in her Inspector Sejer series. No real hint as to plot, but Book Four’s title When the Devil Holds the Candle appears to originate from a cryptic sentence uttered by the escaped psychiatric patient in Chapter 8 of this book: “A person can’t see much when the Devil is holding the candle.”
I’m taking a break from the Inspector Sejer series, and have been reading Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy and the first in Martin Cruz-Smith’s Arkady Renko series, Gorky Park, so maybe we’ll be focusing on Scotland or Russia next time.
G’ night now.