Review - THE DROWNED BOY, Karin Fossum
The 11th Inspector Sejer novel from Karin Fossum, specialising again in the why of a crime. Why in this instance is a series of very big questions. Why did a young toddler end up dead in a pond near his house? Why did nobody think that secure fencing would be necessary for any child that age so close to water? Why is it particularly noteworthy that Tommy is a healthy boy, who happens to have Down's Syndrome? Why is his mother behaving so weirdly, and more to the point is she a spoilt princess or a bit odd? Why do Sejer and Skarre think there's something odd about this death and what can they do about that suspicion with very little evidence?
Fossum often tackles difficult subjects and this is not the first time she's put characters with Down's Syndrome in the forefront of consideration. Whilst she uses this as a way of exploring reactions and expectations it's not disrespectful, opportunistic or uninformed, but it is pointed and thought-provoking. Even more chillingly in THE DROWNED BOY as the parents of young Tommy, Carmen and Nicolai, are very young. The reader is left wondering if they are too young to be parents at all, let alone to a disabled child, or has age less to do with it than just being dysfunctional people. Certainly Carmen seems way too narcissistic to possibly care for anybody but herself. Nicolai on the other hand seems brittle, young, overwhelmed and despite trying to parent, ineffectual and ephemeral.
In contrast to this young couple, and her rather controlling, domineering father, Sejer is the epitome of calm, kind and thoughtful. Struggling with the need to address a health condition of his own, there's something about the reactions to Tommy's death that worries him from the start. In his normal manner he doesn't take those concerns up front to the possible suspects, instead gently digs away, prodding and searching for an explanation.
Readers who are passionately addicted to investigation and closure in their crime fiction may find Fossum's books tough reading. Because they look deep into the human psyche, they aren't about the how or even necessarily the who, although the truth is eventually revealed, as are some further shocks and sad outcomes. Not that the reveal is necessarily because of just good investigative techniques, but rather the way that people react to pressure and the spotlight.
Why would a young Down's Syndrome boy drown, naked in a pond near his home on a hot summer's day and how will his short life and that death affect those around him? There's no question that anybody is going to get away with anything in THE DROWNED BOY, but the why remains the focus, and all the more heart-rendering as a result.
Carmen and Nicolai failed to resuscitate their son, Tommy, after finding him floating in their backyard pond. When Inspector Skarre arrives on the scene, Carmen reports that Tommy, a healthy toddler with Down syndrome, wandered into the garden while Nicolai was working in the basement and she was cleaning the house. Skarre senses something is off with Carmen’s story and consults his trusted colleague, the famed Inspector Sejer. An autopsy reveals Tommy’s lungs to be full of soap.
When Sejer and Skarre revisit the couple, Carmen, an epileptic, changes her story, confessing that she’d been knocked unconscious by a seizure while bathing Tommy. When she came to, she found him drowned in the tub and, horrified and frightened, threw him into the pond.
But Skarre and Sejer’s doubt is not appeased and the case is reopened. What more could Carmen be hiding? And what lengths will she take to cover her guilt? As Carmen’s own family starts to doubt her, Skarre and Sejer work to find the truth.