The pram was from Brio, and the child was an eight-month-old girl. She lay under a crocheted blanked, wearing a matching bonnet with a string fastened under her chin. The pram sat under the shade of a maple tree; behind the tree the forest stood like a black wall. The mother was in the kitchen. She couldn’t see the pram through the window, but she wasn’t concerned about her sleeping baby, not for an instant.
Pottering about thoroughly content, she was light as a ballerina on her feet, not a single worry in her heart. She had everything a woman could dream of: beauty, health, and love. A husband, a child, and a home and garden with rhododendrons and lush flowers. She held life in the palm of her hand.
She looked at the three photographs hanging on the kitchen wall. In one photograph, taken under the maple, she wore a flowery dress. In another her husband, Karsten, was on the front porch. The last was a photograph of her and Karsten together on the sofa, the child between them. The girl’s name was Margrete. The arrangement of the three photos made her smile. One plus one is sure three, she thought – it is truly a miracle. Now she saw that miracle everywhere. In the sunlight cascading through the windows, in the thin white curtains, fluttering in the breeze. (pgs. 1-2)
A reader knows after reading this opening that something not nice is going to happen. Perhaps the baby will be snatched, the mother killed but something wicked this way comes. And it does but in an unexpected way. Karin Fossum has been called the Queen of Norwegian crime and these are the opening paragraphs to her latest mystery, The Caller, featuring her detective Inspector Konrad Sejer. Although this is the tenth in the series I didn’t feel out of place reading it first – it is very self-contained. It was clear there is a back story but knowing it is not necessary to fully enjoy this mystery.
The Caller is not a typical mystery – there is no horrific crime at the beginning, Instead we have a serious of pranks – clever, sadistic, nasty pranks that shake people to the core. And we know the perpetrator of these pranks – a seventeen year old boy living with his alcoholic mother, smart, neglected, with no friends other than his pet gerbil and his elderly and ill grandfather, no prospects other than the same dull dreary life. And because this kid is miserable, he decides to make other people miserable. Because he has no secure foundation to depend on he will take away the security of other people in diabolically smart ways.
The first prank is to pour blood over the idyllic baby in the opening paragraphs which serves to deeply, crack the foundation of the parent’s marriage. Another prank involves an elderly man with advanced Lou Gerig’s disease and his wife. The prankster sends a funeral home to pick up the man’s body leading the wife to wonder if she wanted her husband to die.
In this mystery it is not about the crime, it is about how society’s operation depends on trust and what happens when that trust is violated. It is about how everyone lives on the edge and just what it takes to send them over. At one point in time Sejer is talking to a group of boys about the prank involving the baby saying, “It is a form of theft. The parents’ security has been stolen from them, and that’s very serious. Without security, life is terribly difficult.” (pg. 57)
I really enjoyed this mystery and, although the detective is not as much in the forefront as other mysteries, I didn’t mind. I knew enough to make the character interesting to me and the rest of the plot held my interest. The book reminded me a little of Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger – where a series of poison pen letters upsets the lives of a handful of people in a small village. It is somewhat disconcerting to see how easy it can be to push someone from a secure foundation to a place of frightening insecurity.