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The Murder of Harriet Krohn


The Murder of Harriet Krohn

- Click here to read Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum's review.


Review #1 by Joe Hartlaub:

If you would like to add a bit of a change-up to your mystery and thriller novel reading, then you have to get your hands on THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN. Though properly placed in Karin Fossum’s addictive Inspector Konrad Sejer canon, the intrepid Norwegian detective does not appear in person until well after the halfway point. Rather, the narrative from beginning to end follows Sejer’s target in the present tense. There is no mystery here; rather, it is a riveting and spellbinding psychological study that brings to mind several of the works of Edgar Allan Poe or, perhaps, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, while nonetheless remaining Fossum’s very own and unique work.

"Fossum’s plotting and nuances, expertly preserved in James Anderson’s skillful translation, will make you a believer in both Fossum and Sejer."

Sejer’s target is a deeply flawed man named Charlo Torp, a near-waste skin who has lost almost everything. Most of his losses are due to a horrific gambling habit; he is unable to pass a “fruit machine” without stopping. He has lost his job as a result, his self-respect, and the affection of Julie, his 17-year-old daughter, who apparently takes after her late mother, Torp’s wife. When we initially meet Torp, he has selected a victim --- the unfortunate Harriet Krohn --- for a robbery. We learn precisely how she was selected in due time, but Fossum makes us wait for a while before revealing that piece of information. Rather, the reader watches as Torp prepares to gain entry to Krohn’s home. He succeeds in doing so, but things quickly go terribly wrong.

Torp does indeed rob Krohn, but while he leaves with money and valuables in his hands, those hands are covered in blood --- literally and figuratively. He goes about his business, clearing up old debts and using the remainder of his ill-gotten gain to mend fences with Julie. An interesting thing occurs as well: Torp discovers that he no longer has the urge to gamble. The monkey that had been on his back, clinging stubbornly to him and motivating his every waking moment, has scampered off. Torp re-establishes his relationship with his daughter, even though she is somewhat troubled as the occasional holes in his story concerning the new leaf he has turned over begin to manifest themselves.

Torp is aware of the official investigation into Krohn’s brutal murder and the man --- Inspector Sejer --- who is running it. Sejer, it is said, has never failed to solve a case. Torp thinks he has planned things too well. Besides, even if Sejer does approach Torp, the killer is confident that he is well-prepared enough to deflect him. Sejer does indeed approach Torp on an otherwise quiet afternoon. And the contest begins, with an all-but-inevitable ending.

Indeed, the book’s conclusion is all but preordained. The brilliance of the story is found in the manner in which Fossum gets the reader from the opening of her story to novel’s end. We know what’s coming; it’s how Fossum and, yes, Sejer get there that makes the book a fascinating one-sit read. Along the way, one almost feels some degree of sympathy for Torp, whose worldview is self-serving to the extreme. While, of course, one feels bad for Krohn --- who is here and gone within a few pages --- it is Julie who comes in a close second in the empathy stakes. As we see, she is a victim of her father’s brutal shortcomings and selfishness not once, but twice. Even when he tries to do something decent, he doesn’t quite get there.

If you have never read Karin Fossum before --- and even if you don’t care for mysteries --- you should pick up THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN. Fossum’s plotting and nuances, expertly preserved in James Anderson’s skillful translation, will make you a believer in both Fossum and Sejer.


Review #2 by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum:

Charlo Torp is a widower who has an estranged daughter and has gambled their lives away. A gambler deeply in debt and with no resources at all, he is afraid for his life and decides that he will kill an elderly woman who has money and silver in her home. Her name is Harriet Krohn.

The book opens with a very moving letter Torp writes to Julie, his child, who is away at school. The missive is full of memories and miscalculations he has as a father and as a man. He is very confused and doesn't know if his daughter will even read it.

"...a psychological profile of what may go on inside the head of a man who never wanted to kill but did."

And so begins Karin Fossum’s new novel, THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN, her seventh Inspector Sejer book, which is being published for the first time in the United States. Her fans may be a bit put off because Sejer doesn't take the stage until more than halfway through the narrative. But the book is a psychological profile of what may go on inside the head of a man who never wanted to kill but did. Now he is living with the consequences of that act. Readers go through the entire episode and its ramifications in the mind of the perpetrator.

Torp buys an enormous floral arrangement for Krohn as a ruse to get into her apartment. What he did not plan on was her fighting him off. He bludgeons her to death on the kitchen floor, and she is found by a neighbor. He is a weak man who cannot stop thinking of her and the devilish act he committed.

Torp is unable to sleep, and can’t be honest with himself about what happened or about anything with his daughter with whom he reconciles. He buys her a horse, and she is happy but not completely trusting of him. He gets a job working at the stables where Julie's horse is boarded, thus having a huge amount of time with her. The "moral ambiguities" Torp struggles with are legion, and his main goal is that his daughter not find out what he is capable of.

As the novel unfolds and readers are on the same wavelength as Torp, he becomes a person of interest to the police. But he believes that he was both "invisible" and "invincible" the night of his crime, and that he will be able to outsmart any tricks Sejer has to trip him up.

According to the publisher, who says that the novel is "told through the eyes of a killer,” THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN poses the question: "How far would you go to turn your life around, and could you live with yourself afterward?"

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on November 21, 2014

The Murder of Harriet Krohn
by Karin Fossum