The investigation of the death of Kirsten Bunding keeps leading to a young man who works as a gofer in a local hotel. He is a somewhat slow witted and quiet young man who acts more like a boy and is described as strange and odd by most of the townspeople. He appears to have had some kind of obsession with the dead woman. And it may be that Kirsten was so lonely that she encouraged his unusual form of showing attention. When Morck interviews the boy's mother she is reluctant to give the police any information. She sees all fingers pointing at her son and the accusations sting:
Although Morck is open to her opinion he still is convinced that she is merely being an overly protective mother. The boy was seen spying on Kirsten, he was caught sitting in her car, he seemed to be morbidly obsessed by her. And yet... There were those open curtains in Kirsten's house. Could they have been an invitation? Could she have been something of an exhibitionist? Morck tries to figure all angles and not be biased by the thinking of the close-minded townspeople.
A scapegoat, he mused. The boy's made for the part, with his gauche and reticent manner. Isn't it always the same? When a crime of this magnitude is committed, not only do we want to track down and punish a criminal, but equally there is an urge to find a scapegoat, someone to be punished – a whipping boy.
This book came out when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were at the top of their game with their series about Swedish policeman Martin Beck. Pantheon – the American publisher of the Martin Beck series – saw this as an opportunity to introduce more Scandinavian crime writers to the English language reading public. Scapegoat (or The Whipping Boy as it was published in the UK) was their first choice in this early wave of Nordic noir. This was Poul Ørum's first crime novel after several other mainstream works of fiction, his first book translated into English, and the winner of the Danish Poe Association's award for best crime novel of the year. If you are a fan of the current trend in Nordic crime fiction I urge you to check out this early example from one of the Scandinavian trailblazers in the genre. You will find it more than satisfying and at a mere 255 pages a compact, tightly told, story compared to the epic length of those Stieg Larsson books.
This is my delayed entry in this week's trip to Denmark on the Crime Fiction Europass. Other visits to the land of Hans Christian Andersen and innovative furniture design can be found at Mysteries in Paradise.