Black Seconds is the fifth of Karin Fossum’s novels to be translated into English (a sixth has recently come out in hardback) and it will certainly do no harm to her reputation as one of the leading contemporary writers of Scandanavian crime fiction, which is currently riding the crest of a wave, with writers like Ake Edwardson, Jo Nesbo, Karin Alvtegin and, of course, Henning Mankell, to mention but a few. Fossum, a Norwegian, is up there right at the top.
In Inspector Sejer, Fossum has established an enduring detective, perhaps not as dark or dysfunctional a character as has become the norm these days, but still one, along with his regular team, who serves as the moral compass. In this sense Fosum writes quite traditional crime fiction (if not old-fashioned and charming), although the crimes she describes and the socially dysfunctional world her characters inhabit are much less so. Fossum writes economically and with great pace (and here she is helped by an excellent translator) and even though Black Seconds is not a particularly complex whodunnit (I was able to unravel the mystery without too much trouble), I didn’t think that this was Fossum’s real purpose or concern and instead she relies more on tension and suspense than enigma – with great effect.
What Fossum does particularly well (as does Mankell) is capture the landscapes (both geographical and social), which are a constant presence and influence on the characters and the narratives. Just as Rankin’s Rebus novels could only take place in Edinburgh and Rankin uses the novels to make social and political commentary, so the same is true of the best of the Scandanavian crime writers.