THE WATER'S EDGE - Karin Fossum
One of the things that I particularly love about really good crime fiction is the way that it highlights the human condition - warts and all. The thing I particularly love about Karin Fossum's books is the way that she explores the notion of the sad, the stupid, the moments in which things go awry. To my mind, there's something profoundly more sobering about the notion of momentary mistake or misjudgement - rather than the automatic presumption of evil.
THE WATER'S EDGE tackles the difficult subject of the death of a child (and the disappearance of another). When Reinhardt and Kristine Ris briefly pass an agitated man at the start of one of their regular walks, they have no idea that they will need to remember that man, his appearance, his state of mind and his vehicle. They only realise that after they discover the body of a young boy in the woods, and Inspector Sejer starts asking a lot of questions. The circumstances of the boy's death appear to be indicating a dreadful fate for the little boy, although the exact cause of death remains a mystery for quite a while. Sejer's investigation takes on an even more sinister overtone when a second little boy disappears.
Whilst the death of the little boy and the search for his attacker is paramount to Sejer, there's some interesting psychological exploration going on in THE WATER'S EDGE. Reinhardt and Kristine's marriage is a fragile affair to start off with, although Reinhardt's bull-headed stubbornness and self-involvement means he probably had no idea that Kristine has been having second thoughts about the relationship for a long time. As Reinhardt's voyeuristic reaction to the discover of the little boy becomes more and more extreme, it simply confirms for Kristine that her marriage has been a mistake. Add to that Reinhardt's refusal to have children and Kristine's increasing yearning for a child, and this is a relationship which is destined for problems. The portrayal of the affects of the boy's death in such a personal thing as the relationship of the hapless discoverers of the body poignantly draws a picture of how profound and unexpected the affects of murder can be.
The other side of the story - the perpetrator is equally telling. As strange as this may seem, there's some room for compassion for the perpetrator of these acts - these moments of misjudgement. Lifelong damage, instant mistakes, the sad, the pathetic, the inexcusable, the stupid, the unwittingly cruel, shame and personal loathing. It applies equally to the death of a poor little boy, his body laid out with some care and reverence in the woods, as it does to another little boy - overweight, over-indulged, different, ashamed and shamed against, who has gone missing.
Walking through the woods one warm September day, Reinhardt and Kristine Ris pass a man who is in a state of agitation. Unusually in a small town, he does not return Kristine's smile and drives off in a hurry. As the couple continue on their walk they make a terrible discovery: lying in a cluster of trees is the lifeless body of a young boy. It is a moment that will change their lives forever.