I read across a wide variety of genres, so choosing a non-romance book for this month’s TBR Challenge proved rather tricky. In the end, I went with a mystery, because I really wanted to get back into Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series. Set in rural Norway, this series follows Inspector Sejer on his investigations and stands apart from many other mystery series in that it focuses much more on the psychology and the human side of the various crimes presented. The Indian Bride comes 4th in the portion of the series that is available in English, but it works well as a standalone. Though it starts off slowly, this book still holds the attention and as it progresses, it becomes almost compulsively readable. It’s not the most exquisitely perfect mystery I’ve ever read, but I’d give it a very solid B+.
The book centers around Gunder Jomann, a shy, simple salesman from a small Norwegian village. The middle-aged bachelor Gunder is spellbound by the beauty of the Indian women he sees in books and finally one day he decides to travel to India and hopefully meet a woman to marry. He lives simply, so he has enough money saved up for the trip and he even purchases a beautiful silver filigree brooch to give his future bride. This part of the story moves slowly, but it’s beautifully written and there is a poignant quality about Gunder’s search for love. Even though he’s obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the author shows him to be such a goodhearted man that it’s almost impossible not to like him or at least have sympathy for him.
This being a Fossum novel, we all know that Gunder’s sweet search for a bride will not be all hearts and flowers. And indeed, not long after his return home, a foreign woman is found dead in the village, beaten so badly that she’s almost unrecognizable. The remainder of the book focuses primarily on what happened to Gunder’s Indian bride, but we also see how the killing affects the village, what happens to Gunder himself, and how he thought of this lady he knew for only a short time. And we get front row seats for all manner of human drama from teenagers desperately seeking attention to relationships going sour to the mysterious goings on at a local hangout. If you enjoy observing people, you would probably enjoy this book, because the author does a good job of observing the small details of people’s lives that give insight into who they are and how they think.
The intersecting paths of lives in the village make for a convoluted mystery. The tangle of business and personal relationships, as well as some of the anger issues and mental illnesses of the various players give Sejer and his partner, Jacob Skarre, a difficult puzzle to solve. However, the understated emotions described in various scenes throughout the book also make this story very effective. We see Gunder’s mourning for his wife, concern over a hospitalized relative, petty rivalries between folks in the village and so on. None of it is over the top and at least in the English translation, the prose has an understated and subtle style that shows the emotional landscape of the story quite starkly.
This human dimension made The Indian Bride stand out for me. So much of this book focuses on everyday lives and the evil that seeps into this normal existence haunted me for days after reading the book. There was no supervillain or evil mastermind here; just a regular person who crosses a line into darkness. That gives the story an unsettling quality as it leads the reader to think that what happened in this village could happen to anyone anywhere. As with other Fossum books I’ve read, she injects an element of ambiguity into the ending, though in this particular book, it felt a little forced. While this novel didn’t quite reach DIK level for me, it was a very good read and I enjoyed it.
– Lynn Spencer