The new book is about the disappearances of two children. Fossum manages to do something that I hate whenever any other crime novelist does it--she enters the mind of the killer, right off the bat. She does this not in order to front-load her stories with suspense, or demonstrate her artful recreation of the criminal mind, but because she regards crime as a human condition, its practitioners worthy of empathy. Her aims are literary: people interest her. In her novels you will never find a wild scramble across a warehouse floor for a dropped gun. You will never find the hunter become the hunted. You will never see anything happen just in the nick of time, nor a killer brilliantly taunt the police. You'll just see human beings grappling with their inherent nature.
Which is not to say this book isn't a page-turner. Fossum gives us two mysteries, then hands over the solution to one of them, gratis. The detectives think that both have the same solution; the reader knows they're wrong. This is where the suspense comes from: the disconnect between what we know and what they know. Think "Blood Simple." In the midst of this investigation, we also read about one strange marriage, one strange childhood, and several strange obsessions. There is no artificial energy here: no ticking time bomb, no race against the clock. Just the slow churn of deduction, accident, and moral complexity--the latter on prominent display here, when an offender has just been placed under arrest:
The cell faced a backyard with a brown Portakabin and several parked patrol cars. He saw Volvos and Fords. A row of green wheelie bins was lined up against the Portakabin. He paced the floor. He could take only a few steps before he had to turn around. He thought about those who had occupied the cell before him, thieves and robbers, murderers. He had nothing in common with them. [...] They had promised him something to eat, but no food had arrived.
And later, after the same offender has been sentenced:
He liked the workshop and he liked the food. He liked helping out in the kitchen, all the smells and the heat from the stove, the huge, steaming, bubbling pots.
He slept fairly well at night, curled up on his bunk in a fetal position. He was serving ten years. On completing his sentence he would be released back into the community, back to his lonely existence on benefits [...] No one would welcome him, he would be left to his own devices, his own pain and his own urges. All things considered, prison life was not as bad as he had imagined.
This book, all things considered, is better than I dared hope.