Fossum seems more comfortable of late in the world of intellect as opposed to crime, its perpetrators, and the determined casework of Norway’s Inspector Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre. This novel provides the tools for her to explore the complicated psyches of those without conscience. What promises to be the return of the multi-faceted, world-weary Sejer becomes instead an examination ad nauseum of the moral vacuity of a generation whose values seem strangely askew from the traditional ones of their parents. The predictable selfishness of three young men one winter night results in tragedy, a Vietnamese immigrant boy forever mourned by a mother who will never see her son again.
When one of the young men, Jon Moreno, commits suicide while on a weekend furlough with his childhood friends, Sejer is hesitant to trust the evasive answers of the other two, Axel and Riley. Released - though with much trepidation - from the mental hospital where he has voluntarily admitted himself to go to a mountain retreat with his pals, Jon has every apparent intention of returning. When he disappears from the cabin and the remote lake area, divers drag the lake to find what might have happened to him. Jon’s mother, like the mother of the Vietnamese boy, becomes yet another grieving parent of a son lost too young. Sejer is left to puzzle what burden three young men carry that would drive one of them to suicide, and why the survivors seem to be engaged in a power struggle that will eventually bring them in conflict with the law.
Sejer is his usual dogged self but remains marginalized as Fossum focuses on the actions and philosophical contemplations of Axel and Reilly once Jon has slipped into oblivion at the bottom of the silent lake. Axel dominates a tense dialog where nothing is ever resolved, Reilly turning frequently for solace to drugs, the Koran, and a stray kitten found at the lake, though he is neither a believer nor an animal lover. The problem is that these two characters are infected with the malaise of a generation that has avoided discomfort or conflict in their young lives, their self-centeredness hardly an anomaly of their lifestyle and the world they inhabit. Not much to feast on here but the disgust of turning moral laxity into an intellectual exercise; they are not quite guilty, just victims of circumstance.
This relatively short mystery purports to stare into the face of evil, but this is an evil so banal and pervasive that few will recognize it, so easily misshapen into the guise of victimhood. Overall, with Norwegian clarity and the sparse language of her work, Fossum walks us up to the edge of the abyss - and leaves us to contemplate, much like Axel and Reilly. There is no titillation here, only revulsion and a horror of the moral wasteland of a future where everything is relative and attributable to psychological forces beyond our control.