A chilling descent into the mind of mass murderer Anders Breivik.
“It was only supposed to be an article for Newsweek,” writes veteran combat journalist Seierstad (The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War, 2008, etc.) of the origins of this long book—a touch too long, in need of some judicious streamlining. The long arm of editor Tina Brown drew Seierstad deep into a story that she’d watched unfold in her native Norway, a country about which she hadn’t written before. Her explorations of Breivik, who coldly gunned down 69 people at a youth summer camp after setting off a bomb in Oslo that killed another 8, have the unsettling quality that readers will associate with novelist Stieg Larsson, whose investigative reporting in next-door Sweden turned up a deep-running vein of fanatical right-wing hatreds and xenophobia. In Breivik’s case, the metamorphosis from gadabout to obsessive computer gamer and then unmoored killer has no sure inevitability. It could have turned out much differently, but it also might just have had to happen, as Seierstad’s portentous opening pages suggest. As neatly as possible, given the complexity of the story, the author unfolds the narrative of a Kurdish refugee family with Breivik’s developing anti-Muslim sentiments, seemingly connected with the publication of a fake manifesto promising a Scandinavian jihad. Fakery and invented scenarios form a theme, from forged diplomas to Breivik’s certainty that the Marxists were out to get him. What is certain, however, is that his killing spree, described in gruesome detail, was thoroughly and carefully planned from the beginning. On being told that he had disrupted the sense of security that blanketed the quiet nation, Breivik smiled and said, “That’s what they call terror, isn’t it?"
Rather diffuse but thoroughly grounded in documented fact—as a result, it packs all the frightening power of a good horror novel.