Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Review: 'The Murder of Harriet Krohn'
By Karin Fossum
Crime fiction (Scandinavian)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A father writes a heartfelt letter to his estranged daughter. She is clearly the most important thing in his life, the reason, really, that he lives. Why won't she have anything to do with him?
Karin Fossum answers that question and more in The Murder of Harriet Krohn, an absorbing character study and crime novel. The father, Charlo, has had a serious gambling problem. His wife dying of cancer didn't help. He even gambled away the money they had put aside to buy a horse for his darling daughter.
Now that there is the chance his gambling creditors will come after him, Charlo has finally hit bottom. He's got to do something. So he does. He buys flowers and takes the bouquet one late, snowy night to the home of an elderly woman, Harriet Krohn, who lives alone.
Fossum, who often experiments with crime fiction tropes in her novels, next switches the focus to Harriet Krohn. She is small-minded, tightly wound, regimented, a skinflint. She is crippled with arthritis, but she is not a figure of sympathy. When the murder occurs, it's easy to see how the killer, over time, begins to blame the victim. If only she hadn't done this or done that, if only she had just let him take the silver and the cash, and leave.
This is just the beginning of the story. The major portion of the novel deals with what Charlo does after the fact. Will he get away with it? Will he feel guilty? Will he be reconciled with his daughter? And what of the police? Fossum's best character is Inspector Sejer. Is he going to show up?
Without incorporating spoilers, let's just say the rest of the book flies by as suspense grows over these questions. Charlo is a fascinating, flawed character who makes his own problems and is a victim of his choices and what matters to him. This is not a novel in which the author asks the reader to feel pity or empathy for the main character. Rather, it is an examination of what might lead a man to think murder is the only way to solve his problems, and how does someone go on after that happens? For an author who has done unusual things in her novels before, Fossum does not disappoint here. She shows how to let character dictate story. The Murder of Harriet Krohn is a remarkable book by an author who can explore ideas while entertaining.
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