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When the Devil Holds the Candle: An Inspector Sejer Mystery    by Karin Fossum order for
When the Devil Holds the Candle
by Karin Fossum
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

As a dark, disturbing tale in which several of the characters are haunted by repressed passions, crippled by buried secrets, and overwhelmed by dangerous emotions, Karin Fossum's When the Devil Holds the Candle introduces readers to Andreas Winther and his friend Sivert 'Zipp' Skorpe.

Bored and mostly inert within their Scandinavian adolescent angst, Andreas and Zipp find themselves seductively bedeviled by the excitement of choosing between good and bad behaviors. As they descend lower into the depths of shame and terror, the two strangely paired friends cross paths with others in their Norwegian town, and the lives of everyone involved will never be the same: There is the thirty-something woman who innocently takes short walks with a small child in his stroller; there is the forty-something painter who enjoys her lusty, bohemian approach to life; there is the unhealthy sixty-something woman, a linens-and-fabric shop clerk who now lives alone in her house, without a husband whom she had inexplicably lost and - because of all that is about to happen - without a reason for living.

Fossum also reintroduces readers to Inspector Konrad Sejer, the fifty-something widower whose personal life is now going in new directions because of his romantic relationship with Sara, a woman he cannot quite understand. And readers also become reacquainted with Sejer's colleague, the much younger Jacob Skarre, a relatively inexperienced policeman whose uncanny instincts continue to impress the experienced Sejer. Together, Sejer and Skarre find themselves looking into apparently unrelated incidents: a missing person (according to a frantic mother) and an accidental death (according to a grieving mother). As Sejer and Skarre look closer, however, they discover a series of chilling, heart-stopping truths.

However, let me interrupt my brief preview of Fossum's thriller at this point by making two statements and one admission:

First, it was last year when I read Fossum's second Inspector Sejer mystery, He Who Fears the Wolf, and I was convinced then that the Norwegian author was an absolute master of the psychological thriller, yet I doubted that she would ever improve upon what she had already offered readers because He Who Fears the Wolf and its predecessor Don't Look Back were such superb books. After all, most writers simply cannot sustain or repeat that kind of excellence.

Second, I recently confided in my very patient editor at BookLoons that several of my recent reviews - ones where I had given the site's prestigious 3-book rating - surprised me because I rarely (usually no more often than five or six times a year) find books that deserve these best-of-the-best ratings, and I speculated (and promised) that it would probably be a long time before I found another book that would earn the 3-book rating. After all, I don't want to be accused of inflating the ratings.

Now, here is the admission. I was wrong on both of the above-mentioned counts: Karin Fossum has, in fact, improved upon her already excellent track record; and I must once again (and enthusiastically) give a book my highest recommendation and rating. In fact, in the case of giving When the Devil Holds the Candle the most appropriate numerical score, I wish I could give it something above and beyond the 3-book rating.

As noted in The New York Times, Karin Fossum is a 'superb writer of psychological suspense. She turns a conventional police procedural into a sensitive examination of troubled minds and a disturbing look at the way society views them.' I whole-heartedly agree, and I am telling every mystery fan I know that they simply must read When the Devil Holds the Candle. But I'm also telling them that they should probably leave their lights on at night when they finish their reading!

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

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