Review: Hell Fire by Karin Fossum

Hell Fire by Karin Fossum is the 12th Inspector Sejer Mystery, following the murder of a mother and her son and the masterfully intertwined parallel story of a separate mother/son relationship.

This was my first time reading an Inspector Sejer Mystery. I’m normally not one to jump into a series midway, but I held my breath and tested the waters. And, I’m glad I did.

Hell Fire is 12th installment of the aforementioned Inspector Sejer series. Author Karin Fossum carries the title of “Norwegian Queen of Crime,” and it’s not hard to see why. This story refused to be put down until it was finished. I started it before bed on a Friday night and found myself on the last page a little after midnight. I had to know how it was going to turn out. Fossum has a genius way of baiting the hook and steadily reeling the reader in, and she does this with amazing ease.

I was a little hesitant when I saw that this book was about the murder of a woman and her child. I’m a mother of three and don’t normally read stories with a premise such as this, but the more I read about the series and Fossum herself, the easier the decision was to take a step out of my comfort zone and give it a try. I really didn’t know what to expect—if I would be able to finish it or not. I was truly surprised by how much I was pulled into the story and how fast I had it read.

Her characters and their lives are the true stars here. With two families being followed through the winter of 2004 until the fateful summer of 2005, the tendrils reached across and entwined them to each other, but it wasn’t clear how until the very end. These hints and clever connections kept me intrigued. Not to mention the characters themselves.

Within the first few pages, we are introduced to a heart-breaking crime scene. We also get to see the infamous Inspector in his environment.

The men followed the dusty path up toward Geirastadir. Their conversation was limited to short hushed comments. He had presumably walked this way, trodden this path after doing the deed. “One of them must have seen the other die,” Sejer said, turning to his younger colleague. He didn’t know which was worse: if the child had witnessed the mother’s death, or if the mother had witnessed the child’s death. The most horrific thing possible had happened to them both. Evil incarnate had snuck across the fields and stabbed them with a knife. There was something methodical about the murders, something determined – he couldn’t see it any other way.

I only hope to God it was quick, he thought.

After I finished the book, I realized that I hadn’t really made a connection with Inspector Sejer. I had spent the majority of the book investing in the two families and trying to work out who committed the murder. It is a mystery, after all. It does make me want to go back and read some other books in the series to get to know Sejer better, because I get the feeling that there’s a lot to the man.

In the dynamic between mother and son, Mass and Eddie, it was easy to loathe Eddie. He was disgusting, cruel, and unstable. I got as worked up about Eddie’s constant mistreatment of the family dog as I did the murder. Here’s an excerpt to give a view into Eddie’s twisted psyche:

“What are you doing?” she asked as she sat down and reached for the newspaper.

“On the Internet,” he said, without turning around. “Google.”

“What are you looking for? Seems to me that you’re always sitting there.”

Eddie’s fat fingers bounced on the keyboard. He muttered quietly at regular intervals. Mass was now very curious. She put down the newspaper, got up, and went over to him.

“What have you found?”

Eddie read: “’The authorities in Ohio are now planning to try the new method using only one injection, after the execution of one felon took a full two hours, as they had great difficulties finding a vein. The usual method comprises three injections: the prisoner is first injected with a dose of barbiturate, then something to paralyze the muscles, and finally, an injection to stop the heart.’”

Mass had her arm around Eddie’s shoulder. She put her hand against his warm neck; she loved his wonderful soft curly hair and played with it as often as she had the chance, and he never tried to stop her.

“Or,” Eddie continued, “the electric chair. Two thousand volts to the head, with a big wet sponge under the helmet. They can choose how they want to die. What would you choose?”

On the flip side, Bonnie and Simon, the doomed mother and son from the beginning, were easy to love. Bonnie was a hard-working single mother who loved nothing more than her son, the frail and nervous Simon. Bonnie carried her demons inside, and they wore her down, to be sure. She worked herself to the bone in an underpaid and underappreciated position, barely scraping by. She also went above and beyond to help out the people she was assigned to, doing jobs that others wouldn’t dare. Bonnie is an easy-to-love character, and it was easy to feel for her because no matter how much she tried to do the right thing, she couldn’t seem to catch a break.

Bonnie always felt sad in March.

She had often wondered why, but in March it was as if she was in no man’s land: it was no longer winter but not yet spring or summer. The weather was unpredictable and the light was gray with rotten snow. Roadsides were dirty, as forgotten garbage from the previous autumn emerged once again. One day it was freezing and there were snowstorms, the next the sun shone generously and all the snow melted again. It was hard to know what Simon should wear; he had to take his winter clothes and rain gear, waterproof boots, and a hat and mittens. There was a spare set of clothes in his bag, and some more on his peg under the snail.

Hell Fire was a satisfying read with an equally satisfying ending. It’s a quick read, easily put away on a weekend. Fossum has crafted an intriguing tale of suspense and sadness that carries the reader on a swift paced ride through misguided revenge. The Inspector Sejer series could be added to any suspense fan’s shelf.


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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.


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