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When the Devil Holds the Candle (Inspector Sejer Series #4)
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When the Devil Holds the Candle (Inspector Sejer Series #4)

4.3 6
by Karin Fossum, Felicity David (Translator)

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"Either somebody just slid an ice cube down your back or you’re reading the opening pages of When the Devil Holds the Candle.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

"So chillingly told . . .  that we can only marvel at the author’s skill.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

A purse is snatched, with


"Either somebody just slid an ice cube down your back or you’re reading the opening pages of When the Devil Holds the Candle.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

"So chillingly told . . .  that we can only marvel at the author’s skill.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

A purse is snatched, with tragic consequences, and a local delinquent disappears. Unaware of the connection between these developments, Inspector Sejer, unflappable as ever, and his colleague Jacob Skarre begin to dig below the tranquil surface of a small town’s life, in the third installment of Karin Fossum’s acclaimed mystery series.



"Inspector Sejer is a great addition to the detectives’ league.”—The Dallas Morning News

"Sejer belongs alongside the likes of Adam Dalgliesh and Inspector Morse—a gifted detective and troubled man, whom I am grateful to have met and look forward to knowing better.”—The Boston Globe

"There’s no mistaking this . . . soulful detective for one of those brainy European sleuths who make a parlor game of homicide.”—The New York Times Book Review

KARIN FOSSUM ’s novels featuring Inspector Sejer have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in a small town in southeastern Norway.

Editorial Reviews

Curled Up with a Good Book.com

"A stunning exploration of social isolation... Masterfully plotted."
O Magazine

"Either somebody just slid an ice cube down your back or you're reading the opening pages of When the Devil Holds the Candle...a psychological tour de force."
New York Times - Marilyn Stasio

"[T]he story is so chillingly told that we can only marvel at the author's skill at illustrating how a random sequence of events can cause so many lives to intersect in so many horrifying ways."
Libary Journal - Jo Ann Vicarel

"This is not your usual police procedural -- Fossum's third Sejer novel ... is psyhcological suspense at its best."
Bookpage - Bruce Tierney

"[I]t is an impossible book to put down, a psychological thriller that will haunt you long after the final page has been turned."
Marilyn Stasio
Andreas teams up with his socially inept friend, known as Zipp, to snatch a young mother's purse, harming her infant in the process, before they run off to break into the home of a reclusive old woman. Only Andreas manages to get into the house, and Fossum makes the odd choice of telegraphing much too early what eventually happens to him after he is trapped inside the home of this profoundly disturbed woman. Even with its suspense dissipated, the story is so chillingly told (in a lucid translation by Felicity David) that we can only marvel at the author's skill at illustrating how a random sequence of events can cause so many lives to intersect in so many horrifying ways.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Skillful characterization and revealing detail lift Fossum's third mystery to be published in the U.S. featuring thoughtful, intelligent Insp. Konrad Sejer (after 2005's He Who Fears the Wolf). Handsome Andreas Winther, a self-absorbed, dangerously restless 18-year-old, manages to draw both sympathy and disgust from the reader. He roams the streets of an unnamed provincial Norwegian town in the evenings, accompanied by his socially inept friend, Sivert "Zipp" Skorpe, and fueled by the enormity of a secret he keeps. One evening, after mugging a young mother, Andreas decides to break into an old woman's house to rob her. His intended victim, Irma Funder, has a complicated health situation and a more complicated psyche. In defending herself, Irma pushes Andreas down the cellar stairs, where he lands unnaturally twisted, unable to move but alive. What develops between the immobile boy and the reclusive woman is a bizarre, excruciating, curiously tender relationship that serves as a pathetic and poignant balance to the hunt for Andreas conducted by Sejer and his police colleague, Jacob Skarre. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Libary Journal
"This is not your usual police procedural -- Fossum's third Sejer novel ... is psyhcological suspense at its best." —Jo Ann Vicarel
New York Times

"[T]he story is so chillingly told that we can only marvel at the author''s skill at illustrating how a random sequence of events can cause so many lives to intersect in so many horrifying ways."

— Marilyn Stasio

Kirkus Reviews
"Fossum . . . writes like Ruth Rendell with the gloves off."

"[I]t is an impossible book to put down, a psychological thriller that will haunt you long after the final page has been turned."

— Bruce Tierney

Library Journal
Best friends Andreas and Zipp are 18 and cruise around town looking for beer, fun, and trouble. First they steal a wallet from a young mother whose baby carriage goes over a cliff during the mugging. After drinking that money away, the boys follow an old lady to her home. When Andreas's mother reports him missing, Inspector Konrad Sejer suspects something is terribly wrong. But this is not your usual police procedural-Fossum's third Sejer novel (after He Who Fears the Wolf) is psychological suspense at its best. Her dark story focuses on the dilemma facing those whose lives have come to a point where a decision must be made and a new direction taken. Several of Fossum's characters handle this conflict in distinctive ways. Not for the faint of heart, this book will satisfy patrons who cannot get enough of Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. [The Nordic crime wave continues with ke Edwardson's Never End, reviewed below.-Ed.] Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for Karin Fossum’s crime novels:
“Like the best Rendell, this unsettling novel tackles the reasons people commit crimes and the devastating effect it has on the protagonists’ lives.”
Good Book Guide

“Fossum’s presentation of her characters is marked by an intelligence and compassion that is not often found in the pages of crime fiction.”
Sunday Times

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Inspector Sejer Series , #4
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

When the Devil Holds the Candle

By Karin Fossum

Random House

Karin Fossum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0099461129

Chapter One

The courthouse. September 4, 4 p.m.
Jacob Skarre glanced at his watch. His shift was over. He slipped a book out of his inside jacket pocket and read the poem on the first page. It's like playing Virtual Reality, he thought. Poof ! - and you're in a different landscape. The door to the corridor stood open, and suddenly he was aware that someone was watching him. Whoever it was was just beyond what he could see with his excellent peripheral vision. A vibration, light as a feather, barely perceptible, finally reached him. He closed his book.
"Can I help you?"
This woman didn't move, just stood there staring at him with an odd expression. Skarre looked at her tense face and thought that she seemed familiar. She was no longer young, maybe about 60, wearing a coat and dark boots. A scarf around her neck. Enough of the pattern was discernible under her chin. The design seemed a sharp contrast to what she most likely possessed in the way of speed and elegance: racehorses with jockeys in colourful silks against a dark blue background. She had a wide, heavy face that was elongated by a prominent chin. Her eyebrows were dark and had grown almost together. She was clutching a handbag against her stomach. But most noticeable of all was her gaze. In that pale face her eyes were blazing. They fixed him with a tremendous force and he could not escape them. Then he remembered who she was. What an odd coincidence, he thought, and waited in suspense. He sat there as if riveted by the probing silence. Any moment now she was going to say something momentous.
"It has to do with a missing person," was what she said.
Her voice was rough. A rusty tool creaking into motion after a long repose. Behind her white forehead burned a fire. Skarre could see the flickering glow in her irises. He was trying not to make assumptions, but obviously she was in some way possessed. Gradually it came to him what sort of person he was dealing with. In his mind he rehearsed the day's reports, but he could not recall whether any patients had been listed as missing from the psychiatric institutes in the district. She was breathing hard, as if it had cost her immeasurable effort to come here. But she had made up her mind, and at last had been driven by something. Skarre wondered how she had made it past the reception area and Mrs Brenningen's eagle eye, coming straight to his office without anyone stopping her.
"Who is it that's missing?" he asked in a friendly voice.
She kept staring at him. He met her gaze with the same force to see if she would flinch. Her expression turned to one of confusion.
"I know where he is."
Skarre was startled. "So you know where he is? He's not missing, then?"
"He probably won't live much longer," she said. Her thin lips began to quiver.
"Who are we talking about?" Skarre said. And then, because he guessed who it might be. "Do you mean your husband?"
"Yes. My husband."
She nodded resolutely. Stood there, straightbacked and unmoving, her handbag still pressed to her stomach. Skarre leaned back in his chair.
"Your husband is sick, and you're worried about him. Is he old?"
It was an inappropriate question. Life is life, as long as a person is alive and means something, maybe everything, to another being. He regretted the question and picked up his pen from the desk, twirling it between his fingers.
"He's almost like a child," she said sadly.
He was surprised at her response. What was she really talking about? The man was sick, possibly dying. And senile, it occurred to him. Regressing to his childhood. At the same time Skarre had a strange feeling that she was trying to tell him something else. Her coat was threadbare at the lapels, and the middle button had been sewn on rather badly, creating a fold in the fabric. Why am I noticing these things? he thought.
"Do you live far from here?" He glanced at his watch. Perhaps she could afford a taxi.
She straightened her shoulders. "Prins Oscars gate 17." She enunciated the street name with crisp consonants. "I didn't mean to bother you," she said.
Skarre stood up. "Do you need help getting home?"
She was still staring into his eyes. As if there was in them something that she wanted to take away with her. A glow, a memory of something very much alive, which the young officer was. Skarre had a weird sensation, the sort of thing that happens only rarely, when the body reacts on impulse. He lowered his gaze and saw that the short blond hairs on his arms were standing on end. At the same moment the woman turned slowly around and walked to the door. She took short, awkward steps, as if she were trying to hide something. He went back to his chair. It was 4.03 p.m. For his amusement, he scribbled a few notes on his pad.
"A woman of about 60 arrives at the office at 4 p.m. She seems confused. Says her husband is missing, that he doesn't have long to live. Wearing a brown coat with a blue scarf at her neck. Brown handbag, black boots. Possibly mentally disturbed. Left after a few minutes. Refused offer of help to get home."
He sat there, turning her visit over in his mind. Probably she was just a lost soul; there were so many of them nowadays. After a while he folded the piece of paper and stuck it into his shirt pocket. The incident didn't belong in his daily report.
HAS ANYONE SEEN ANDREAS? That was the headline in the town's largest newspaper, set in bold type. That's the way newspapers express themselves, using an informal tone to address us directly, as if we were on first-name terms and have known each other a long time. We're supposed to break down the barriers of formality and use a straightforward, youthful tone, in this fresh, onward-storming society. So even though very few people actually knew him or used his first name, let's just cut right to the chase and ask: Has anyone seen Andreas?
And the picture of him. A nice-looking boy of 18, with a thin face and unruly hair. I say "nicelooking", I'm generous enough to admit that. So handsome that things came easily to him. He strutted around with that handsome face of his and took things for granted. It's a familiar pattern, but it does no-one any good to look like that. Handsome in a timeless, classic sense. A charming boy. It costs me a bit to use that word, but all the same . . . charming.
On the afternoon of September 1, he left his house on Cappelens gate. He said nothing about where he was off to. Where are you going? Out. That's the kind of answer you give at that age. A sort of infinite guardedness. You think you're somebody so exceptional. And his mother didn't have the sense to press him. Maybe she used his obstinacy as food for her martyrdom. Her son was in the process of leaving her, and she hated that fact. But it's really a matter of respect. She ought to have raised the boy so that it would be unthinkable for him not to reply in a polite and precise manner. I'm going out, well, with someone. We're thinking of going into town. I'll be home before midnight. Surely that's not too much to ask, is it? But she had failed, as have so many others. That's what happens when you invest all of your energy in yourself, your own life, your own sorrow. I know what I'm talking about. And the sorrow was going to get worse. He never came home.
Yes, I've seen Andreas. I can see him whenever I like. A lot of people are going to be surprised when he's finally found. And of course they'll speculate, they'll guess, and write up reports, and carry on discussions and fill numerous files. Everyone with his own theory. And all wrong, of course. People howl with many voices. In the midst of that din I've lived in silence for almost 60 years. My name is Irma. At last I'm the one who's doing the talking. I won't take much time, and I'm not saying that I have a monopoly on the truth. But what you're reading now is my version.
A childhood memory comes back to me. I can summon it up whenever I like. I'm standing in the porch with one hand on the door knob. It's quiet inside, but I know that they're there. Yet there's not a sound to be heard. I open the door very quietly and walk into the kitchen. Mother is standing at the counter, lifting the skin from a boiled mackerel. I can still recreate the smell in my nose, a cloying, unpleasant odour. She shifts her heavy body a little, indicating vaguely that she has noticed my presence. Father is busy over by the window. He's pressing putty into the cracks in the frame to keep the draught out. It's an old house. The putty is white and soft like clay, with a dry, chalk-like smell. My two sisters are sitting at the kitchen table, both busy with books and papers. I remember that pale, almost nauseating light when the sun cast its yellow rays into the green kitchen. I'm maybe six years old. Instinctively I'm scared of making any noise. I stand there, all alone, and stare at them. They're all busy with something. I feel very useless, almost in the way, as if I'd been born too late. I often thought I might have been an accident that they were unable to stop. There are two years between my sisters. I came along eight years later. What could have made my mother want another child after such a long time? But the idea that I might have been an unloved obligation makes me miserable. I've had it for so long, it's a well-worn idea.
This memory is so real that I can feel the hem of my dress tickling my knee. I'm standing in the yellowish-green light and noticing how alone I am. No-one says hello. I'm the youngest. Not doing anything important. I don't mean that my father should have stopped what he was doing, maybe lifted me up and tossed me in the air. I was too heavy for him. He had rheumatism, and I was big and chubby, with bones like a horse. That's what mother used to say. Like a horse. It was just Irma who had come in. Nothing to make a fuss about. Their heads turning imperceptibly, in case it was someone important, and then discovering that it was only Irma. We were here first, their looks said.
Their indifference took my breath away. I had the same feeling as when I persuaded Mother to tell me about when I was born. And she shrugged, but admitted that it had happened in the middle of the night, during a terrible storm. Thunder and a fierce wind. It made me happy to think that I had arrived in the world with a crash and a roar. But then she added, with a dry laugh, that the whole thing was over in a matter of minutes. You slid right out like a kitten, she said, and my good feeling drained away.
I waited, my knees locked, my feet planted on the floor. I'd been gone for quite a while, after all. Anything could have happened. We lived near the sea, didn't we? Ships from other countries regularly docked in the harbour. Sailors swarmed through the streets, staring at anyone over the age of ten. Well, I was six, but I was as sturdy as a horse, as I mentioned. Or I could have been lying with a broken leg or arm on the pavement near Gartnerhall, where we often played on the flat roof. Later, three Alsatians stood guard up there, but before that happened we used to play on the roof there, and I might have fallen over the edge. Or I could have been crushed under the wheels of a big lorry. Sometimes they have 20 tyres, and not even my big bones would survive that. But they were never worried. Not about things like that. About other things, yes. If I was holding an apple, had someone given it to me? I hadn't pinched it, had I? No? Well, did I thank them nicely? Had they asked me to say hello to my mother and father?
My brain was churning over to think up some kind of task. Some way that I could make my way into the companionship that I felt they shared. Not that they turned me away, just that they didn't invite me in. I'll tell you one thing: those four people shared an aura. It was strong and clear, and reddish-brown, and it hardly flickered at all, the way it does for the rest of us. It was wrapped around them as tightly as a barrel hoop, and I was on the outside, enveloped in a colourless fog. The solution was to do something! The person who is doing something cannot be overlooked, but I couldn't think of anything. I didn't have any homework because this was before I had started school. That's why I just stood there, staring. At the boiled mackerel, at all the books lying around. At Father, who was working carefully and quietly. If only he would have given me a piece of that white putty! To roll between my fingers.
For a paralysing second I was struck by something that I think is important; important in order to explain both to myself and to you, who are reading this, how it could happen. The whole thing with Andreas. I suddenly became aware of the tremendous set of rules governing that room. In the silence, in the hands that were working, in the closed faces. A set of rules I had to submit to and follow to the letter. I was still standing in the silence of the kitchen, I felt that set of rules descend on me like a cage from the ceiling. And it struck me with enormous force: within that set of rules I was invulnerable! Within that clear framework of diligence and propriety, no-one could touch me. The concept of "within" meant the possibility of being around people without anyone looking askance, without offending anybody, and at the same time feeling a sense of peace because you were like everyone else. You thought the same way. But in my mind I saw a narrow street with high walls. It was to be my life. And a terrible sadness overwhelmed me. Until that moment I might have believed in Freedom, the way children do; they believe that anything is possible. But I made a decision, even though I was so young and might not have understood it all. I obeyed a primeval instinct for survival. I didn't want to be alone. I'd rather be like them and follow the rules. But something departed at that instant - it rose up and flew off and it vanished for ever. That's why I remember the moment so clearly. There in the kitchen, in the yellow-green light, at the age of six, I lost my freedom.
That silent, well-mannered child. In Christmas and birthday pictures I'm sitting on my mother's knee and looking at the camera with a pious smile. Now I have an iron jaw that shoots pain up into my temples. How could things have ended up this way? No doubt there are many different reasons, and some of it can be put down to pure coincidence, the fact that our paths crossed on one particular evening. But what about the actual crime? The impulse itself, where does that come from? When does murder occur? In such and such a place, at such and such a moment in time? In this case I can share the blame with circumstance. The fact that he stepped into my path, that he was the sort of person he was. Because with him I was no longer Irma. I was Irma with Andreas. And that was not the same as Irma with Ingemar. Or Irma with Runi. Chemistry, you know. Each time a new formula is created. Irma and Andreas destroyed each other.


Excerpted from When the Devil Holds the Candle by Karin Fossum
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Karin Fossum made her literary debut in Norway in 1974. She has found great acclaim with her Inspector Sejer mysteries.

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When the Devil Holds the Candle (Inspector Sejer Series #4) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
knittingnancy More than 1 year ago
The pleasure of reading a mystery story is often subverted by those you have already read...sooner or later, you will start solving the mystery yourself. Some authors present their characters in clear black and white...good and evil. But this author presents her tales closer to the way real life unfolds...more grey than black and white. The reader will usually harbour the most sympathy for the victims' family, but Fossum's tales unfold with the same honest grace as a camera slowly rolling 360 degrees around every character. This might seem to cause the tale to bog down, but each inch brings you inexorably to the truth, mean and raw. Good people are often driven by circumstance to do bad things, and the reader is allowed to come to judgement without being bludgeoned...how refreshing. I highly recommend reading this author's work. Scandinavian authors may be less conditioned to the violence Americans witness on TV every night, but this author proves that great plotting and sincere characterization moves the story along by emotionally connecting the reader to the action better than being constantly assaulted by physical violence. Aa great read.
mvaluri More than 1 year ago
This story involves an elderly,eccentric woman, and two teenage boys whose lives cross paths in an eerie way. Inspector Sejer becomes involved when one of the teens goes missing. Ms Fossum tells the tale in her unique way, from the perspective of the lonely, elderly woman, the naive, confused teens, and of course, Inspector Sejer, as he deals with getting older himself and relying more on his bright young assistant. One of Ms Fossum's best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoy Fossum's books and can't wait to read her others in this detective series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes there are criminals and violence but evrn so this story basically misses the mystery. Two violent incidents lead to a wierd pieced together ending that left me cold is seger in this book just to draw in his fans? Is there a crime to solve? I give this book a thumbs down for it's tediousness
Anonymous More than 1 year ago