With her faded red hair, wispy physique, and translucent skin, Ragna Riegel is an invisible woman. People look right through her. At 46, she works in a Europris store—sort of a Norwegian Walmart—in Kirkelina, stocking shelves and cashiering; she lives alone, has just one friend and no family nearby. (Her son, the result of her sole sexual encounter with a man, left for Berlin as a teen.) Her neighbors would say she was nice but quiet, literally—Ragna can’t speak above a whisper, a consequence of botched throat surgery which left an angry, rope-like scar on her neck.
Norwegian writer Karin Fossum is drawn to damaged characters with dreary, circumscribed lives, like the outwardly ordinary but secretly monstrous Irma Funder in her finest—or perhaps creepiest—book, When the Devil Holds the Candle (2007). Fossum has uncanny insight into how people beneath society’s radar can be driven to the breaking point. Though Irma and Ragna both do evil things, are they completely to blame?