A familiar damsel-in-distress story veers off script into territory that would be too dark for almost anyone but Fossum (Hell Fire, 2016, etc.).
Kirkelina shop clerk Ragna Riegel was born to be hurt. An only child whose parents died years ago, she was too unattractive even as a teenager to appeal to most men, and her seduction by much older photographer Walther Eriksson, long since departed for Stockholm, left her on her own to raise a son, Rikard Josef, who took off for Berlin as soon as he possibly could. Over the years, Ragna has comforted herself by fantasizing about her son’s professional success as chief manager at the upscale hotel Dormero as she’s waited for the annual Christmas cards that are her only other link to his present-day life. In the meantime, a botched operation on her throat reduced her voice to a whisper, alienating her from the world even further. An even nastier chapter in her sad life opens with an anonymous letter that warns her: “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.” Ragna disposes of the letter as briskly as if that disposed of the problem, but others soon follow: “IT’S NOT LONG NOW,” “I’M WATCHING YOU,” “NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU.” A series of intercut chapters shows Ragna, whose frantic calls to the police have been deflected by anodyne responses, conversing with series regular Inspector Konrad Sejer, who finally offers her sympathy and understanding. It gradually becomes clear, however, that Sejer regards Ragna not as the potential victim of a crime but as a criminal herself. But not much else is clear at all. What can this gentle, frightened woman have done to break the law, and what on Earth could have led her to do so?
The answers to these questions, though certainly disturbing, are so obvious that most readers will see them coming from far off, turning this mystery into an extended exercise in dramatic irony. The moving, late-blooming relationship between mother and son adds a welcome note of grace.