Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Originally published as Salige er de som tørster, 1994
Blessed Are Those Who Thirst is a short novel in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt, and I’m not sure how representative of the series it is. 1222, the first book to be translated into English, is a much later book in the series that’s essentially a locked-room mystery at a ski resort. The first book, Blind Goddess, is a police procedural centering on a murder investigation. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, on the other hand, centers on a rape investigation as well as a batch of extremely bloody crime scenes where the victims are missing.
It’s a book that’s very amped up: it’s a very hot late spring in Oslo, the police are swamped with lots of violent cases, the bloody crime scenes are dubbed the Saturday night massacres within the department, and there is a very brutal rape of a medical student that is the focus of the novel.
I will admit that sometimes in the course of a police procedural I lose sight of the crime at the center of the novel and become more wrapped up in the chase for the perpetrator, but that didn’t happen while I read this novel. Holt has a lot of sympathy for Kristine, the rape victim, and her father, who are tempted to pursue justice outside the criminal justice system as they search for Kristine’s attacker. The book is a meditation on what justice is– and whether you can get justice by becoming a vigilante.
In terms of its place in the series, the novel advances police attorney Håkon Sand and detective Hanne Wilhelmsen’s personal stories a bit, but since it’s such a short story, it’s just a small bit of the story that will play out more in subsequent installments.
Finally, I want to comment on some of the flourishes that make this book stand out to me. Holt, a former minister of justice, knows bureaucracy. It’s nice to read a police procedural that acknowledges the extremely large workload of public servants and how things fall between the cracks in such a busy system. I don’t expect crime novels to be completely realistic (that wouldn’t be entertaining), but it’s nice to have a dose of reality from time to time. I also appreciated the information about the counsel for the victim and victim compensation systems in Norway, since they are unlike what exist in the U.S..