Don't Look Back

Paperback | January 8, 2014

byKarin Fossum

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A brilliantly engaging atmospheric thriller from Norway's Queen of Crime.
Beneath the imposing Kollen Mountain lies a small village where the children run in and out of one another's houses and play unafraid in the streets. But when a naked body is found by the lake at the top of the mountain, its seeming tranquillity is disturbed forever. 

Inspector Sejer, a tough, no-nonsense policeman whose own life is tinged by sadness, is called in to investigate. As the suspense builds, and the list of suspects grows, Sejer's determination to discover the truth leads him to peel away layer upon layer of distrust and lies in this tiny community where apparently normal family ties hide dark secrets. 

Critically acclaimed across Europe and loved by fellow crime writers including Jo Nesbo, Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter, Karin Fossum's novels evoke a world that is terrifyingly familiar.

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From the Publisher

A brilliantly engaging atmospheric thriller from Norway's Queen of Crime. Beneath the imposing Kollen Mountain lies a small village where the children run in and out of one another's houses and play unafraid in the streets. But when a naked body is found by the lake at the top of the mountain, its seeming tranquillity is disturbed fore...

KARIN FOSSUM began her writing career in 1974. She has won numerous awards, including the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel, an honour shared with Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her highly acclaimed Inspector Sejer series has been published in more than thirty countries.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:432 pages, 7.78 × 5.09 × 1.07 inPublished:January 8, 2014Publisher:Random House UKLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0099565463

ISBN - 13:9780099565468

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Read from the Book

CHAPTER 1Ragnhild opened the door cautiously and peered out. Up on the road everything was quiet, and a breeze that had been playing amongst the buildings during the night had finally died down. She turned and pulled the doll’s pram over the threshold.“We haven’t even eaten yet,” Marthe complained.She helped push the pram.“I have to go home. We’re going out shopping,” Ragnhild said.“Shall I come over later?”“You can if you like. After we’ve done the shopping.”She was on the gravel now and began to push the pram towards the front gate. It was heavy going, so she turned it around and pulled it instead.“See you later, Ragnhild.”The door closed behind her – a sharp slam of wood and metal. Ragnhild struggled with the gate, but she mustn’t be careless. Marthe’s dog might get out. He was watching her intently from beneath the garden table. When she was sure that the gate was properly closed, she started off across the street in the direction of the garages. She could have taken the shortcut between the buildings, but she had discovered that it was too difficult with the pram. Just then a neighbour closed his garage door. He smiled to her and buttoned up his coat, a little awkwardly, with one hand. A big black Volvo stood in the driveway, rumbling pleasantly.“Well, Ragnhild, you’re out early, aren’t you? Hasn’t Marthe got up yet?”“I slept over last night,” she said. “On a mattress on the floor.”“I see.”He locked the garage door and glanced at his watch; it was 8.06 a.m. A moment later he turned the car into the street and drove off.Ragnhild pushed the pram with both hands. She had reached the downhill stretch, which was rather steep, and she had to hold on tight so as not to lose her grip. Her doll, who was named Elise – after herself, because her name was Ragnhild Elise – slid down to the front of the pram. That didn’t look good, so she let go with one hand and put the doll back in place, patted down the blanket, and continued on her way. She was wearing sneakers: one was red with green laces, the other was green with red laces, and that’s how it had to be. She had on a red tracksuit with Simba the Lion across the chest and a green anorak over it. Her hair was extraordinarily thin and blonde, and not very long, but she had managed to pull it into a topknot with an elastic band. Bright plastic fruit dangled from the band, with her sprout of hair sticking up in the middle like a tiny, neglected palm tree. She was six and a half, but small for her age. Not until she spoke would one guess that she was already at school.She met no one on the hill, but as she approached the intersection she heard a car. So she stopped, squeezed over to the side, and waited as a van with its paint peeling off wobbled over a speed bump. It slowed even more when the girl in the red outfit came into view. Ragnhild wanted to cross the street. There was a pavement on the other side, and her mother had told her always to walk on the pavement. She waited for the van to pass, but it stopped instead, and the driver rolled down his window.“You go first, I’ll wait,” he said.She hesitated a moment, then crossed the street, turning around again to tug the pram up on to the pavement. The van slid forward a bit, then stopped again. The window on the opposite side was rolled down. His eyes are funny, she thought, really big and round as a ball. They were set wide apart and were pale blue, like thin ice. His mouth was small with full lips, and it pointed down like the mouth of a fish. He stared at her.“Are you going up Skiferbakken with that pram?”She nodded. “I live in Granittveien.”“It’ll be awfully heavy. What have you got in it, then?”“Elise,” she replied, lifting up the doll.“Excellent,” he said with a broad smile. His mouth looked nicer now.He scratched his head. His hair was dishevelled, and grew in thick clumps straight up from his head like the leaves of a pineapple. Now it looked even worse.“I can drive you up there,” he said. “There’s room for your pram in the back.”Ragnhild thought for a moment. She stared up Skiferbakken, which was long and steep. The man pulled on the handbrake and glanced in the back of the van.“Mama’s waiting for me,” Ragnhild said.A bell seemed to ring in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t remember what it was for.“You’ll get home sooner if I drive you,” he said.That decided it. Ragnhild was a practical little girl. She wheeled the pram behind the van and the man hopped out. He opened the back door and lifted the pram in with one hand.“You’ll have to sit in back and hold on to the pram. Otherwise it’ll roll about,” he said, and lifted in Ragnhild too.He shut the back doors, climbed into the driver’s seat, and released the brake.“Do you go up this hill every day?” He looked at her in the mirror.“Only when I’ve been at Marthe’s house. I stayed over.”She took a flowered overnight bag from under the doll’s blanket and opened it, checking that everything was in place: her nightgown with the picture of Nala on it, her toothbrush and hair brush. The van lumbered over another speed bump. The man was still looking at her in the mirror.“Have you ever seen a toothbrush like this?” Ragnhild said, holding it up for him. It had feet.“No!” he said. “Where did you get it?”“Papa bought it for me. You don’t have one like it?”“No, but I’ll ask for one for Christmas.”He was finally over the last bump, and he shifted to second gear. It made an awful grinding noise. The little girl sat on the floor of the van steadying the pram. A very sweet little girl, he thought, red and cute in her tracksuit, like a ripe little berry. He whistled a tune and felt on top of the world, enthroned behind the wheel in the big van with the little girl in the back. Really on top of the world.The village lay in the bottom of a valley, at the end of a fjord, at the foot of a mountain. Like a pool in a river, where the water was much too still. And everyone knows that only running water is fresh. The village was a stepchild of the municipality, and the roads that led there were indescribably bad. Once in a while a bus deigned to stop by the abandoned dairy and pick up people to take them to town. There were no night buses back to the village.Kollen, the mountain, was a grey, rounded peak, virtually neglected by those who lived there, but eagerly visited by people from far-off places. This was because of the mountain’s unusual minerals and its flora, which was exceptionally rare. On calm days a faint tinkling could be heard from the mountaintop; one might almost believe it was haunted. In fact, the sound was from sheep grazing up there. The ridges around the mountain looked blue and airy through the haze, like soft felt with scattered woollen veils of fog.Konrad Sejer traced the main highway in the road atlas with a fingertip. They were approaching a roundabout. Police Officer Karlsen was at the wheel, keeping an attentive eye on the fields while following the directions.“Now you have to turn right on to Gneisveien, then up Skiferbakken, then left at Feltspatveien. Granittveien goes off to the right. A cul-de-sac,” Sejer said pensively. “Number 5 should be the third house on the left.”He was tense. His voice was even more brusque than usual.Karlsen manoeuvred the car into the housing estate and over the speed bumps. As in so many places, the new arrivals had taken up residence in clusters, some distance from the rest of the local community. Apart from giving directions, the two policemen didn’t talk much. They approached the house, trying to steel themselves, thinking that perhaps the child might even be back home by now. Perhaps she was sitting on her mother’s lap, surprised and embarrassed at all the fuss. It was 1 p.m., so the girl had been missing for five hours. Two would have been within a reasonable margin, five was definitely too long. Their unease was growing steadily, like a dead spot in the chest where the blood refused to flow. Both of them had children of their own; Karlsen’s daughter was eight, Sejer had a grandson of four. The silence was filled with images, which might turn out to be correct – this was what struck Sejer as they drew up in front of the house.Number 5 was a low, white house with dark blue trim. A typical prefab house with no personality, but embellished like a playroom with decorative shutters and scalloped edges on the gables. The yard was well kept. A large veranda with a prettily turned railing ran around the entire building. The house sat almost at the top of the ridge, with a view over the whole village, a small village, quite lovely, surrounded by farms and fields. A patrol car that had come on ahead of them was parked next to the letterbox.Sejer went first, wiping his shoes carefully on the mat, and ducking his head as he entered the living room. It only took them a second to see what was happening. She was still missing, and the panic was palpable. On the sofa sat the mother, a stocky woman in a gingham dress. Next to her, with a hand on the mother’s arm, sat a woman officer. Sejer could almost smell the terror in the room. The mother was using what little strength she had to hold back her tears, or perhaps even a piercing shriek of horror. The slightest effort made her breathe hard, as was evident when she stood up to shake hands with Sejer.“Mrs Album,” he said. “Someone is out searching, is that correct?”“Some of the neighbours. They have a dog with them.”She sank back on to the sofa.“We have to help each other.”He sat down in the armchair facing her and leaned forward, keeping his eyes fixed on hers.“We’ll send out a dog patrol. Now, you have to tell me all about Ragnhild. Who she is, what she looks like, what she’s wearing.”No reply, just persistent nodding. Her mouth looked stiff and frozen.“Have you called every possible place where she could be?”“There aren’t many,” she murmured. “I’ve called them all.”“Do you have relatives anywhere else in the village?”“No, none. We’re not from around here.”“Does Ragnhild go to kindergarten or nursery school?”“There weren’t any openings.”“Does she have brothers or sisters?”“She’s our only child.”He tried to breathe without making a sound.“First of all,” he said, “what was she wearing? Be as precise as you can.”“A red tracksuit,” she stammered, “with a lion on the front. Green anorak with a hood. One red and one green shoe.”She spoke in fits and starts, her voice threatening to break.“And Ragnhild herself? Describe her for me.”“About four foot tall. Two and a half stone. Very fair hair. We just took her for her sixth-year checkup.”She went to the wall by the TV, where a number of photos were hanging. Most of them were of Ragnhild, one was of Mrs Album in national costume, and one of a man in the field uniform of the Home Guard, presumably the father. She chose one in which the girl was smiling and handed it to him. Her hair was almost white. The mother’s was jet-black, but the father was blond. Some of his hair was visible under his service cap.“What sort of girl is she?”“Trusting,” she gasped. “Talks to everybody.” This admission made her shiver.“That’s just the kind of child who gets along best in this world,” he said firmly. “We’ll have to take the picture with us.”“I realise that.”“Tell me,” he said, sitting back down, “where do the children in this village go walking?”“Down to the fjord. To Prestegårds Strand or to Horgen. Or to the top of Kollen. Some go up to the reservoir, or they go walking in the woods.”He looked out the window and saw the black firs.“Has anyone at all seen Ragnhild since she left?”“Marthe’s neighbour met her by his garage when he was leaving for work. I know because I rang his wife.”“Where does Marthe live?”“In Krystallen, just a few minutes from here.”“She had her doll’s pram with her?”“Yes. A pink Brio.”“What’s the neighbour’s name?”“Walther,” she said, surprised. “Walther Isaksen.”“Where can I find him?”“He works at Dyno Industries, in the personnel department.”Sejer stood up, went over to the telephone and called information, then punched in the number, and waited.“I need to speak with one of your employees immediately. The name is Walther Isaksen.”Mrs Album gave him a worried look from the sofa. Karlsen was studying the view from the window, the blue ridges, the fields, and a white church steeple in the distance.“Konrad Sejer of the police,” Sejer said curtly. “I’m calling from 5 Granittveien, and you probably know why.”“Is Ragnhild still missing?”“Yes. But I understood that you saw her when she left Marthe’s house this morning.”“I was just shutting my garage door.”“Did you notice the time?”“It was 8.06 a.m. I was running a little late.”“Are you quite sure of the time?”“I have a digital watch.”Sejer was silent, trying to recall the way they had driven.“So you left her at 8.06 a.m. by the garage and drove straight to work?”“Yes.”“Down Gneisveien and out to the main highway?”“That’s correct.”“I would think,” Sejer said, “that at that time of day most people are driving towards town and that there’s probably little traffic going the other way.”“Yes, that’s right. There are no main roads going through the village, and no jobs, either.”“Did you pass any cars on the way that were driving towards the village?”The man was silent for a moment. Sejer waited. The room was as quiet as a tomb.“Yes, actually, I did pass one, down by the flats, just before the roundabout. A van, I think, ugly and with peeling paint. Driving quite slowly.”“Who was driving it?”“A man,” he said hesitantly. “One man.”“My name is Raymond.” He smiled.Ragnhild looked up, saw the smiling face in the mirror, and Kollen Mountain bathed in the morning light.“Would you like to go for a drive?”“Mama’s waiting for me.”She said it in a stuck-up sort of voice.“Have you ever been to the top of Kollen?”“One time, with Papa. We had a picnic.”“It’s possible to drive up there,” he explained. “From the back side, that is. Shall we drive up to the top?”“I want to go home,” she said, a bit uncertain now.He shifted down and stopped.“Just a short ride?” he asked.His voice was thin. Ragnhild thought he sounded so sad. And she wasn’t used to disappointing the wishes of grown-ups. She got up, walked forward to the front seat and leaned over.“Just a short ride,” she repeated. “Up to the top and then back home right away.”He backed into Feldspatveien and drove back downhill.“What’s your name?” he asked.“Ragnhild Elise.”He rocked a little from side to side and cleared his throat, as if to admonish her.“Ragnhild Elise. You can’t go out shopping so early in the morning. It’s only 8.15 a.m. The shops are closed.”She didn’t answer. Instead she lifted Elise out of the pram, put her on her lap and straightened her dress. Then she pulled the dummy out of the doll’s mouth. Instantly the doll began to scream, a thin, metallic baby cry.“What’s that?”He braked hard and looked in the mirror.“That’s just Elise. She cries when I take out her dummy.”“I don’t like that noise! Put it back in!”He was restless at the wheel now, and the van weaved back and forth.“Papa is a better driver than you are,” she said.“I had to teach myself,” he said sulkily. “Nobody wanted to teach me.”“Why not?”He didn’t reply, just tossed his head. The van was out on the main highway now; he drove in second gear down to the roundabout and passed through the intersection with a hoarse roar.“Now we’re coming to Horgen,” she said, delighted.He didn’t reply. Ten minutes later he turned left, up into the wooded mountainside. On the way they passed a couple of farms with red barns and tractors parked here and there. They saw no one. The road grew narrower and peppered with holes. Ragnhild’s arms were starting to grow tired from holding on to the pram, so she laid the doll on the floor and put her foot between the wheels as a brake.“This is where I live,” he said suddenly and stopped.“With your wife?”“No, with my father. But he’s in bed.”“Hasn’t he got up?”“He’s always in bed.”She peered curiously out of the window and saw a peculiar house. It had been a hut once, and someone had added on to it, first once, then again. The separate parts were all different colours. Next to it stood a garage of corrugated iron. The courtyard was overgrown. A rusty old trowel was being slowly strangled by stinging nettles and dandelions. But Ragnhild wasn’t interested in the house; she had her eye on something else.“Bunnies!” she said faintly.“Yes,” he said, pleased. “Do you want to look at them?”He hopped out, opened the back, and lifted her down. He had a peculiar way of walking; his legs were almost unnaturally short and he was severely bowlegged. His feet were small. His wide nose nearly touched his lower lip, which stuck out a bit. Under his nose hung a big, clear drop. Ragnhild thought he wasn’t that old, although when he walked he swayed like an old man. But it was funny too. A boy’s face on an old body. He wobbled over to the rabbit hutches and opened them. Ragnhild stood spellbound.“Can I hold one?”“Yes. Take your pick.”“The little brown one,” she said, entranced.“That’s Påsan. He’s the nicest.”He opened the hutch and lifted out the rabbit. A chubby, lop-eared rabbit, the colour of coffee with a lot of cream. It kicked its legs vigorously but calmed down as soon as Ragnhild took it in her arms. For a moment she was utterly still. She could feel its heart pounding against her hand, as she stroked one of its ears cautiously. It was like a piece of velvet between her fingers. Its nose shone black and moist like a liquorice drop. Raymond stood next to her and watched. He had a little girl all to himself, and no one had seen them.From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Don't Look Back, shows just how well [Fossum] deserves her continental fame... all of her characters [are] marked by an intelligent compassion that is not often found in the pages of crime fiction and her prose comes through translation with grace and style." —Sunday Times "Ends with such a blow to the stomach that most readers will wish they had failed to understand the appalling outcome to this apparently routine investigation." —Scotsman