Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Black Seconds - Karin Fossum

Early on in Karin Fossum's 'Black Seconds', when her daughter Ida has not come back home long after going to purchase some comics, Helga starts getting nervous but also thinks "... Why did this feel so familiar? Because she had already, for many years now, been rehearsing this moment in her mind...". This insight into the mind of not just Helga but any parents whose child is young, the fear that your child cannot take care of him/herself, the fear that she may get lost/hurt and sets the tone for this compelling and moving novel.

When 11 year old Ida  goes missing, Inspector Sejer starts searching for her. Search parties are mounted, but to no avail. There are 2 other parallel threads, one concerning 'Emil' a curious character, who doesn't speak and generally shuns/is shunned by there and the other concerning, 'Tomme', the nephew of Helga. We see the lives of Tomme unraveling, witnessed with a sense of impending doom by Ruth his mother (and Helga's sister) and also 'Emil' whose isolated existence is also being threatened. Does any of these have any relation to Ida going missing or are these just red herrings? Though Fossum doesn't give out anything one way or the other, one can guess the perpetrator some way into the novel, though it doesn't have any major impact on your reading experience, because this is majorly a novel that deals with the fear/foreboding of loss , the actual pain that strikes you when your worst nightmare comes true, the ways in which people deal with it/try to come to turns with it and which incidentally also happens to be crime fiction. Sample this. As Helga becomes more and more frantic when Ida does not return, she decides to call the police and thinks that if she does it, Ida will come back, because then it would mean that Helga had overreacted and she is willing to be the target of derision from others, if it would mean that Ida will come back. We, the reader, looking from outside, know that Ida is not coming, are aware that these things very rarely end up being good, but the capacity of the human mind to create scenarios to avoid facing painful situations/to create happy resolutions, however unrealistic the scenarios may be, how much ever they fly in the face of reality (even Helga would be aware of this, but her love doesn't let her face it) the pathos of the whole thing, still moves us. 

The perpetrator is also one of us, he is not your standard cunning, scheming criminal master mind, but someone who makes a mistake without meaning to, is afraid to own up to it, puts on a face of deception, but to no avail because his initial mistake/deception in turns becomes a vicious circle of more mistakes and more deception, always pulling him deeper into the quagmire from which there is no escape. Towards the end, after he has been apprehended  ".. He got through his day one second at a time. He often tried to daydream, tried to nibble his way through this mountain of time that lay before him...". Yes, a mountain of time to get through, not just for him, not just for  Helga, but also for the families of everyone directly impacted by the events of the novel.  Fossum again succeeds in making us adjust our perceptions of crime, its consequences and empathize with everyone involved in this sad business, without compromising much on the core tenets of crime fiction,  reinforcing once again she remains a cut above the majority of crime writers and is one of the very best in the business.