(Reviewed by Melanie Hamilton)
On a warm, Norwegian summer’s day, a toddler wanders from his house only to be found by his mother, floating in Damtjern, a near-by pond. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Sejer’s dizzy spells are becoming more frequent and harder to hide as he investigates the tragedy. In The Drowned Boy, Karin Fossum brings her usual sensitivity to both loss and fear of loss.
Tommy Nikolai is the first born of young parents, Nikolai and Carmen Brandt. He is also a Downs Syndrome baby. From the first, Jacob Skarre has suspicions about the death. Skarre, Sejer’s colleague, suspects Carmen from the beginning along with the idea of circumstances that might strain the special relationship between mother and child. Together, Sejer and Skarre pursue every angle of the relationship between mother, father, and child in order to find the truth in her stories. Because, guilty or not, there is a toddler waiting.
I was initially attracted to the story by its location and that it was another novel by Karin Fossum. I was also curious to see how she handled Downs Syndrome in the context of a police procedural. I was pleased to see that the child’s condition was not the only possible catalyst for suspecting the mother. I was more pleased that the death was questioned for a long time. Was it an accident? Neglect? The challenge of being a first-time mother? A young parent?
The nature and challenge of parenting colored both story threads. For Sejer, his condition invited a kind of parenting from both his partner and his daughter. Both the pace of the investigation and the novel lent Sejer’s actions a fatherly feel as he unraveled the tangle of events surrounding young Tommy’s death. While there is deep tragedy, there is no hysteria. Instead, Fossum created an atmosphere of tenderness.
For all that, the story is quietly told, calmly paced, and meticulously revealed throughout. It held my attention to the very end–to the final revelation of the case in the very last paragraph.
I liked this book very much. It’s the kind of book I would want to read on a train. It’s perfect for a long journey–engaging, meaningful and just slow enough to leave time for gazing out of the window and wondering how it will end.