John Freeman
August 22, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

An undercurrent of fear hums through Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s exquisite second novel, the tale of a beautiful nurse who plunges to her death from the rooftop of her Oslo apartment building. Her husband was present and may have pushed her — or so thinks a steely inspector who has an intuitive ability to finger killers. In the pages that follow, various characters reminisce about Stella, revealing their own sad stories. Most intriguing is Axel, a fastidious elderly man whom she treated and coaxed out of his cynical disengagement with life. The atmosphere and taut pacing make this an icily swift read, one whose chill lingers longer than a Scandinavian winter.

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