Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Eyes Have It

Eva's Eye: An Inspector Sejer Mystery by Karin Fossum

For people like me, who prefer to read series in order, the vagaries of international publishing can be maddening, but here we finally have the first of the Inspector Konrad Sejer stories.

Eva Magnus is a divorced woman and an artist with a seven-year-old daughter, Emma. They live on a meager grant from the Arts Council and the infrequent sale of one of Eva's unusual paintings. One April day, as the ice is breaking and she and Emma walk along the river, they find a partly decomposed body washed up. Eva takes one look at it and goes to a nearby call box to phone the police, but makes a personal call instead. Then she lures Emma away from the scene with the promise of a rare treat, a McDonald's meal with a prize.

The body is identified as Egil Einarsson, age 38, married and father of a six-year-old son. He had been reported missing by his wife six months previously, just a few days after the still-unsolved strangling of a local woman, Maya Durban. He had been stabbed numerous times before being dumped into the river, and the coroner estimates that he has been dead since his disappearance, or shortly thereafter. Sejer wonders if there might be a connection between these two violent deaths, so close in time and place.

Despite the engaging character of Sejer, established at once in this first novel, and the charming human touches, the story was bleak. The whodunnit became clear fairly early, but the why kept me reading, and provided quite a twist. It was a very well-crafted procedural, but like many of the northern European mysteries, left me faintly depressed at the futility of it all.

Dante's Wood by Lynne Raimondo

At age 46, D. Mark Angelotti lost his vision due to an unsuspected genetic condition that struck him almost totally blind within a few months. After Mark spends a year adjusting to his situation, his boss, Sep Brennan, implies strongly that the Americans with Disabilities Act notwithstanding, it was time for him to come back to work––after all, a psychiatrist doesn't need to see his patients to treat them. On Mark's first day back, Nate Dickerson, a powerful surgeon, and his wife Judith come to him for help with their 18-year-old son, Charlie. The boy has a rare genetic condition that renders him intellectually stunted and incapable of ever living independently. Charlie, a handsome, shy, good-natured kid, has been having nightmares, and his mother is convinced that the art teacher at the training facility he attends every day has been sexually molesting him.

After interviewing Charlie, Mark determines that he has no issues other than those of any young sexually mature man. Judith had withdrawn her son from sex education class ("I didn't want him getting any ideas") so the boy has no idea what is happening to him during his nighttime erections. When he explains to the parents that ignorance is more likely to make Charlie a victim than to protect him, Nate chuckles and says he will take care of it. Six months later, Charlie is arrested for murdering his art teacher. When it is found that she was pregnant with Charlie's baby, Mark's career––as well as Charlie's freedom––are in jeopardy.

The legal system's handling of the mentally disabled Charlie in this story is horrific; they let him waive his Miranda rights (which he doesn't understand) and coax a "confession," with neither parents nor a lawyer present, then incarcerate him in the general population of people awaiting trial––with sadly predictable results. The legal complications of allowing Mark to testify for the defense open him up to questioning by the prosecutor, which seems to hurt Charlie's case more than it helps.

I changed my mind several times over the course of this book, but the ending still surprised me. It will be worth rereading to look for any clues the author may have dropped as well as to reenter Mark's fascinating and sometimes frightening world. Dante's Wood is an astonishingly well-plotted and written first novel, with unusual legal and medical elements, and I hope the author intends to make a series of her blind wise-cracking psychiatrist.

Eye Sleuth (A Dr. Yoko Mystery) by Hazel Dawkins

I had never heard of the field of behavioral optometry, which is a fairly new branch of vision science that attempts to correct not vision itself, but the peripheral physiology of seeing. From Wikipedia:
"Behavioral vision care is concerned with impact of visual "skills" on performing visual tasks. Various behaviors and poor performance during visual tasks may suggest non-optimal visual skills. For example this could manifest as eyestrain or adopting poor posture (e.g. leaning in too close to visual material). Another examples could be difficulty understanding maps, difficulty recalling visual information, difficulty completing jigsaws and difficulty drawing/copying/interpreting visual information."
There is some evidence that the therapy can also help with cognitive learning disorders like ADHD and dyslexia.

Yoko Kamimura is a sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) and a behavioral optometrist at SUNY, the State University of New York. In addition to working at the children's clinic, she compiles and edits the notes of Dr. Forrest Anders, a genius in the field, who has been developing revolutionary new optometric equipment. Yoko is dashing out for lunch one day when a strange woman tugs on her arm and says in Japanese, "This is a warning. There is danger." Yoko stared in disbelief as the woman falls to the ground, fatally shot.

The police seem disinclined to believe that Yoko had no connection with Mary Sakamoto, the murdered woman, or that her warning meant that Yoko's life might be in danger. A few days later, Yoko is meeting her godmother, widow of a Swedish diplomat, at the National Arts Club, for lunch. Yoko goes into the bar to wait for her. Through the beautiful stained glass ceiling she sees the shadows of two people struggling on a balcony above. One shoves the other over, and the ceiling shatters as her godmother, Lanny, breaks her fall by clinging precariously to the gridwork. Yoko looks up to see a face twisted with rage looking over the balcony. She is completely confused; was this the danger Mary Sakamoto had been warning her about?

This is a nice, light, cozy mystery; first in a series that takes place in and around several New York City landmarks. I'm still not sure I understand behavioral optometry and what it does, but I enjoyed the characters enough to try the next book in the series.

Note: I received a free review copy of Karin Fossum's Eva's Eye, which will be released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 6, 2013. Similar reviews may be posted on various websites under my user names there.


  1. What an interesting trio you've assembled. Thanks, Periphera.

  2. Thanks, Anon. They are certainly three very different stories.