Karin Fossum has consistently proven herself a crime fiction master. Not only does she build clever plots, but her characters--especially in the Inspector Sejer series--are beautifully wrought. Familiar figures spring to life in a continuum of challenges, the slow, measured dance of investigator and suspect, of crime and adjudication, an exploration of humanity in all its variations.
The Whisperer is unique in its perspective: a woman accused of a heinous crime, convinced of the righteousness of her actions, and unable to find another solution to a growing threat of imminent harm. Gently, calmly, Sejer continues a conversation with accused murderer Ragna Riegel. It is the inspector's job to learn the details of Ragna's crime in a psychological thriller that moves from interview room to the small, quiet world of a woman under duress.
The tale begins when Ragna receives a shocking letter stating: "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE." Replete with the particulars of place (Norway) and the agonizing months of awareness, the stage is set with an excerpt from George Simmon's "Act of Passion," 1947: "Your Honor: I should like one man, just one to understand me. And I would like that man to be you."
Ragna's life is particularly poignant because she is unable to shout or scream, only speaking in a whisper. Due to a botched surgery that leaves a disfiguring scar on her neck, this independent woman has adapted to a world that cannot hear and barely sees her. Ragna's daily routine is limited to home and work, her simple needs met by a small circle of co-workers and neighbors who look out for the unobtrusive lady who resides still in her childhood home. She is the mother of a son, now grown and moved to Germany, where he pursues a career. Though soothed by the familiarity of her daily rituals, Ragna's overwhelming loneliness is assuaged somewhat by the cards from her son that arrive at Christmas, albeit not received of late, a cause for concern.
The small, repetitive intricacies that define Ragna spiral wildly out of control when she receives the un-postmarked, unsigned missive stating only; "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE." Choosing first to ignore the threat, she becomes overwhelmed by fear that ultimately consumes her every waking hour and stalks her sleepless nights. Every noise becomes the stalker come to keep his promise. The tiny woman with an ugly scar across her throat is trapped inside a once-contented life. Reshaped by necessity, her world shrinks further. Ragna lies awake each night, tormented by the knowledge that no one will hear her silent scream. She is helpless, waiting only for the consummation of the threat. Watching, waiting.
The delicate balance between the resolution of Ragna's unbearable ordeal and the evolution of her sessions with Sejer are fraught with the weight of her crime, the knowledge that another is dead by her hand. She needs for Sejer to understand her motives, to empathize with her ordeal. The tension becomes painful: his compassion, her certainty, the psychological interplay as she vacillates between trust and a growing suspicion of his kindness undermining what has become a safe haven, albeit a temporary one. Fossum reveals the depth of her talent in The Whisperer, as well as a deep appreciation for the vagaries of humanity floundering in a world where certainty is fleeting and justice elusive.