The Indian Bride, by Karin Fossum: a book discussion (yes, another one! )

April 9, 2008 at 8:59 pm (Book clubs, books, Mystery fiction)

Last night , the Usual Suspects enjoyed a particularly bracing discussion of The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum. Mike provided us with some fascinating background on this author, who is currently being hailed as Norway’s “queen of crime.” Now in her fifties and enjoying great success in her chosen field of endeavor, Fossum still regards the publication of a book of her poetry in 1974 as the high point of her writing career.

The initial plot premise of The Indian Bride is notable for its poignancy. Gunder Jomann, a lonely man in his fifties, becomes fascinated with India and decides to travel there in search of a bride. Immediately the reader thinks, Oh, he’ll never pull this off. At the same time, you are rooting for for this kindly, inoffensive soul. Surely he deserves an infusion of happiness into his life!

By some miracle, he goes to India and meets Poona Bai. He falls in love with her, and she with him. They marry; he returns to Norway to make ready a place for her; she is due to follow shortly.

Naturally, this being crime fiction, catastrophe follows. Not only catastrophe, but heartbreak, because we readers have so wanted Gunder’s dream to be realized…

A terrible crime is committed. Group members felt that the novel’s ending left them uncertain as to the true identity of the perpetrator. ( I could not enter into this part of the discussion, having read the book several years ago and not gotten around to re-reading it for this meeting. It is amazing what you forget, especially when you careen from one book to the next, the way I do…) Someone posed the question: Do we as readers feel dissatisfied when the conclusion of a mystery is ambiguous? (Some did; some didn’t.) How often does this happen anyway? (Not very, in the reading experience of most of us). Finally, is such ambiguity more likely to be found in Scandinavian crime fiction?

This last question led quite naturally to a discussion of whether we could identify any distinctive characteristics of these works. Mysteries set in Norway and Sweden have been riding a wave of popularity for several years now. How to account for this? It may be that after decades of gorging themselves on crime fiction from Britain and America, readers have welcomed the novelty of new and exotic settings brought vividly to life by the best of the new international authors. None of us felt sufficiently well read in Scandinavian crime literature to offer much in the way of sweeping generalizations (although it is always such wicked fun to propound sweeping generalizations, baseless though they may be!). A number of us have read several books by the Scandinavians; this was especially true of Mike. We did feel that the prose in these novels tends to be eloquent and spare, while the mood tends toward the bleak (all those long, cold, dark winters, we guessed).

Of course, the quality of the writing depends a great deal on the quality of the translation. Of the books by Karin Fossum currently availabe in Engish, we identified two translators: Charlotte Barslund (The Indian Bride and the upcoming Black Seconds) and Felicity David (Don’t Look Back, He Who Fears the Wolf – both superb, by the way – and When the Devil Holds the Candle, the weakest of the four, IMHO.) We found no stylistic fault with either translator.

Henning Mankell was the first of this generation of Scandinavian crime writers to attain popularity with English-speaking readers, first in the UK and then here. His Kurt Wallanders series is still the gold standard. When those novels was first appearing in the U.S. several years ago, they were arriving out of series order and making avid readers somewhat crazy. This problem has since abated, but not disappeared altogether. In the case of Fossum’s Inspector Sejer novels, we have been getting them more or less in the correct order. But the library pulled a fast one on us by first ordering The Indian Bride direct from a British publisher in 2005 . The British title is Calling Out for You! So the library now owns this novel under two different titles. Unwary readers can be forgiven for thinking they were getting two different novels. (This actually happened to one of the Suspects!) On top of that, the first book in this series, Eve’s Eye, has yet to be translated into English.

A good illustration of the confusion over the publication dates and variant titles of these novels can be seen in this entry for Fossum on Stop, You’re Killing Me!

Karin Fossum
[1954-]
Inspector Konrad Sejer, working in a small mountain village in Norway:
Eve’s Eye (1995) [not yet translated]

Don’t Look Back (1996) [2002]

He Who Fears the Wolf (1997) [2003]

When the Devil Holds the Candle (1998 ) [2004]

Calling Out for You (2000) [2006]
AKA: Beloved Poona
APA: The Indian Bride [2007]

Black Seconds (2002) [2007]

The Murder of Harriet Krohn (2005)

Meanwhile, Henning Mankell has switched to writing standalones. That’s his privilege, of course. I haven’t read any of his non-series novels – sigh… (That was a from-the-heart sigh of one who is pining for an abandoned series character…)

So, thank goodness we have Fossum’s Inspector Sejer and his excellent second-in-command, Jacob Skarre. (We were struggling with the pronuciation of these names!) And let’s not forget Sejer’s splendid dog, a Leonberger named Kolberg.

************************************************

Mike also recommended The Return by Hakan Nesser, and I can recommend What Is Mine by Anne Holt and The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson. (For a more complete list of Scandinavian authors of crime fiction, plus lots of other news about international mysteries in general, see Eurocrime.)

In conclusion, I wish that the naysayers who believe that where this genre is concerned, there’s nothing to discuss, could have present last evening while this highly educated, knowledgeable, and insightful group of people analyzed Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride.

2 Comments

  1. Karen M (Euro Crime) said,

    I think Calling Out For You is my favourite so far. It’s so sad and has that unsettling ending, a bit like in Don’t Look Back.
    listened to the first ones on audio, (read by David Rintoul) and he pronounced Jacob Skarre as Yak-ob Scar-rer and had him speak in a Scottish accent (as he’s from the North?), and Sejer as Say-yer.
    Incidentally her bibliography with links to reviews can be found on Euro Crime at :
    http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/books/books_by_karin_fossum.html

  2. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Coffin Trail – Martin Edwards The Indian Bride,  Black Seconds, and Water’s Edge – Karin Fossum Half Broken Things and Puccini’s […]

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