Anne Holt’s characters and plots make her one of my favorites: fast-paced stories with a social conscience and a memorable lesbian detective.
Dead Joker is a downer. Hanne Wilhelmsen is going through personal and professional burnout, and it’s rough going. The book starts with a decapitation (most Holt books aren’t so gruesome at the beginning) and turns from murder to other disturbing crimes that could feel overwhelming, but Holt is so good at pacing and fleshing out her characters that I didn’t feel overburdened by everything in the story that could be too much. I know it’s hard to write something that proceeds at such a clip when it could have felt even heavier given the subject matter. Short chapters help, and spending time with all of her main characters over the length of a substantial book helps too.
Dead Joker is a police and legal procedural with a cast of characters who’ve developed over the series: Hakon and Karen the lawyers and Billy T. and Hanne the detectives. If you haven’t read earlier books in the series, you may not feel as invested in the characters, but on the other hand, this book summarizes lots of the earlier books as well so a new reader doesn’t miss out on crucial plot developments. Holt spends plenty of time with other characters too, and the decline of the prosecutor accused of murderer was very vivid. Other characters are a bit more of a mystery (Billy T.), but I assume he’ll take the lead in another book instead.
My review is a little vague to counterbalance the copy on the back of the book that gives away practically everything. This book is for fans of the series, most of all, and it feels like a sort of summing up of Hanne’s career in the police. It looks like there are just a three more books to be published in English: No Echo, Beyond the Truth, and Offline. I will track them down.
Dead Joker by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Originally published as Død joker, 1999
This edition: Corvus, 2015
I bought my copy of the book