While "The Caller" is an Inspector Sejer mystery, Johnny Beskow might be considered a co-main character. "A slight figure with a talent for mischief," young Johnny engages in an escalating series of awful psychological attacks through the course of the book. While Lily and Karsten are indoors, their baby Margrete sleeps innocently outdoors in her carriage, when Johnny begins his campaign of terror by soaking her in blood, terrifying and permanently shattering her parents' peace of mind.
Fossum writes in an easy, flowing narrative, smartly building the mystery's tension to its dramatic conclusion. She effortless weaves three story strands together: Johnny's viewpoint, often set at home where he lives with his alcoholic mother, typically asleep in a drunken stupor; a peek into the victims' lives, so we can see the emotional trauma Johnny causes; and the track of the investigation pursued by Sejer and his partner Skarre.
It's my second Fossum Sejer book, and the inspector remains a sketchy presence for me, although readers of this book will learn a bit about his home life, his own fears of aging (many of Johnny's victims are elderly), and his family, principally his grandson Matteus, a dancer. But readers get more of Johnny: his torture at never having known his father, his hateful relationship with his mother, and a surprisingly tender, caring relationship with his aging and ill grandfather, Henry.
As Johnny's cruel pranks continue unsolved, he becomes "invincible. I'm faster. I'm Johnny Beskow. They can't even catch me in dreams." But Johnny's mother figuratively knocks over a series of narrative dominoes that fall to a horrible ending that even he can't foresee when she kills his pet guinea pig, saying "I can't have little rats running around the house" and he sadistically responds by concocting a plan to kill her with rat poison.
Fossum very cleverly ties up every loose end in a quite well-constructed finish. Some sharp mystery fans may anticipate her conclusion, but that won't make the book any less satisfying. She's been described as a great "psychological" writer, and that's truly the pleasure of this book. While the plot jumps forward with momentum, it's less the actions and more the human consequences of them that grip and capture you in this fine read.