Fossum has delivered consistently flawless mysteries. Norway’s “Queen of Crime” has an unerring eye for crime fiction, laced with the compassion of her detective and his assistant. Inspector Konrad Sejer is a thoroughly seasoned investigator with a penchant for detail. His younger assistant, Jacob Skarre, brings an entirely different point of view to their work, the perceptions of a more impulsive and instinctive detective.
For the first time, in The Water's Edge I find myself impatient with Sejer, an angst-ridden man who carries the weight of man’s inhumanity to man on his shoulders. But perhaps it is only Sejer’s awareness of the legal ramifications of his mistakes, the price paid for a hurried investigation that falls apart in the courts. In this thriller, Konrad is infinitely careful not to make any mistakes that will reflect badly on the department. But the crime is so heinous that even the reader feels the urgency of resolution.
The victim is a child, Jonas August Lowe, the boy’s broken body discovered in a wooded area by a married couple, Kristine and Reinhardt Ris, as a man with a limp nearly stumbles into them leaving the scene. That brief encounter is enough to leave a lasting impression on the couple and the cause of some confusion when the case seems all but unsolvable.
This is a country where crimes against children send shockwaves of fear through the community. The citizens are all the more disturbed when a second child goes missing, a morbidly obese ten-year-old named Edwin. But unlike Jonas August, Edwin’s body is not found, although a search is begun. The police must treat this case as if it is a linked crime by the same perpetrator.
In the course of this novel, Fossum explores the ambiguities of pedophilia, the dearth of scientific information on the subject, and the origins of the disorder. As Skarre and Sejer interview, investigate and research, they have frequent discussions, trying to understand the nature of such a driven individual. Pedophilia is unique in that usually its origin lies in childhood abuse. Later the perpetrator acts out in a manner that has previously been a source of comfort but is criminal for an adult.
The nature and origin of pedophilia is explored in detail as the detectives profile the killer and attempt to refine a massive search for a loner with a limp who drives a white car. The peripheral characters add depth to the story: the couple who discovers the boy’s small, broken body and the strain that event puts on their marriage; Jonas August’s distraught mother, howling in despair at her son’s funeral service; the mother of the still-missing boy and her obsession with her new lover, a man with a suspect background.
Written with more psychological depth than in previous Sejer novels, Fossum offers much food for thought in The Water's Edge, taking a more active position than in other works where the crime speaks for itself. This tragic mystery illustrates the unknown territory of the criminal mind and the tenuous nature of police work, the fragile threads of evidence that allow a successful prosecution, where happenstance is all too often the key to solving a crime.