The Drowned Boy

Written by Karin Fossum

Review written by Maureen Carlyle

The Drowned Boy
Harvill Secker
RRP: £12.99
Released: June 4, 2105
Trade Pbk

Although I am a devotee of Nordic noir, this is the first book by the Norwegian writer Karin Fossum that I have read – and quickly realised how much I had been missing.  This is a quite short but extremely powerful novel.


Fossum's protagonist in this series is Chief Inspector Sejer of the Sondre Buskerud police district – a widower in his fifties.  Recently he has suffered from a series of severe dizzy attacks, but so far, despite the urgent entreaties of his daughter, he has not consulted a doctor.


His colleague, Jacob Skarre, brings him a new case.  A sixteen-month-old boy has been drowned in a pond in his own garden.  The forensics team are at the scene and the teenage parents are at the station.  The young mother is hysterical and the father utterly silent.  Sejer and Skarre first go to the home to inspect the naked little body, and Sejer quickly realises that the child had Down's syndrome.


Sejer interviews the parents.  The father, Nicolai, can scarcely utter a word and is completely overcome with grief.  The mother, Carmen, in floods of tears, tells a somewhat incoherent story.  The little boy, Tommy, had only just learned to walk.  She had given him a bath, and because the day was so hot – Norway is experiencing a severe heatwave – had left him unclothed while she prepared the evening meal.  She was suddenly aware that he was no longer in the kitchen.  Immediately thinking of the pond, she rushed into the garden and discovered him lying at the bottom of the pond beside the jetty.  Her screams brought Nicolai out from the cellar, where he was repairing a bike (his favourite occupation).  They tried in vain to resuscitate Tommy, having called an ambulance.  The paramedics arrived quickly but were also unsuccessful.


This is a tightly controlled story, with a small cast of characters – the two policemen, the young couple and her parents, who are well off and run a successful restaurant in the town, providing most of the action.  From the start, Sejer recognises that Carmen is wilful and utterly spoilt, and is convinced that she is not telling the truth.


The in-depth character studies and their psychology are completely engrossing.  Running alongside is Sejer's awareness that his own mortality might be approaching, as his dizzy attacks continue.  There are serious moral issues addressed for all the main characters.  A thoroughly satisfactory novel.

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