‘Don’t Look Back’ by Karim Fossum

dont look back karim fossum

At the foot of the idyllic Kollen Mountain, in Norway, lies a small town. A five year old goes missing. She was last seen with the town’s recluse, Raymond, who has Down’s Syndrome. After a few hours, she returns home, unharmed, but claims to have seen a naked woman sleeping in the woods.

I’ll start, as usual, with my thoughts on the edition. The publishing house of my edition is Harcourt and it is very light and easy on the hands, if a bit big. The font is legible and decent.

My favourite thing about this book is how it tricked me. My first few notes were of surprise and recognition of the bold move the author made, in giving us the “murder” from the perspective of the little girl. Usually, you see, the story picks up when the fall out begins: the grief-stricken parents, the killer’s regret or other victims. I thought here comes a brave new author who will give a voice, a reason to the victim and will dare to describe in such vivid detail something as horrific as a toddler being murdered.

I was wrong. The discovery of the victim, the real one, Annie, is then purely coincidental and could almost be dismissed by the adults in the situation as the fabrications of a child. But it’s not and Annie is found. And in that way, this book is different. It lingers in the descriptions and it’s not afraid to draw out the first step, the cumbersome one, the boring bit about finding a body and discovering it’s murder.

Where this book excels is in its characterisation. The mystery falls short of the characters but I really liked that. It’s very layered: it takes a look at all the different, small, everyday tragedies of life and brings life even to the most minor of characters. It’s not cherry-picked to make them believable, it’s just reflecting what real people are like. She doesn’t explain, explore or justify. She just shows us what her characters are and let’s the novel take that in as part of life.

There are certain points where it exceeds the depth and psychology I’ve come to expect for these sort of books. A particular scene about the fragility of life stopped me cold and made me think (if you’re curious, my reflections revolved around my parents’ mortality and how their inevitable demise would affect me: when my father dies I will be completely lost but when my mother passes I’m convinced I’ll completely lose my frame of reference for life) of things no such book has any business in inciting. There’s also a very interesting reflection about choices and what they mean for us, that I found quite enlightened.

The areas in which this book excelled for me could also be what most people would dislike. It does linger in descriptions and the pace is languid, almost peaceful. The introduction is drawn out at leisure. There are a few points where it can feel slightly preachy but not overtly so and some people might find it off-putting that a book which is supposed to be a whodunnit, a mystery, is making them think of their own mortality and life choices.

Overall, what I liked the most was it’s realism. There is no chase-down, no dramatic scenes. The characters are solid and very well-written and the story is very finely layered. She does justice to both the victim’s and everyone’s pain. What I disliked was how predictable I found the ending from about half-way down the novel. It’s more of a character study than a whodunnit, which isn’t a flaw for me.

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