Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt

beyond-the-truthI like to read series I’ve invested in from the start, and thankfully, this entry in the Hanne Willhelmsen series lives up to the ones I really liked in the series. It’s a story revolving around the murder of 3 members of a wealthy shipping family and a seemingly unconnected freelance writer, all around Christmas time.  I prefer the smaller plots in this book and Death of the Demon than the big political plot in The Lion’s Mouth. I also like Hanne in crisis, and the metaphor about the ragged dog at the beginning of the end being Hanne, on the brink of burnout and worse, is not heavy handed.

What else? Annemari Skar finally gets something juicy to do as the police prosecutor. The characters are actually fleshed out, something I find missing in some other books I’m reading lately. And, I almost forgot, we find out about Hanne’s family– the one she grew up in as well as her new family with her new partner Nefis. The plot isn’t as thriller-y as some of the other installments in this series and the Vik and Stubo series, but it’s a solid procedural with an interesting cast of characters. I think this book works best for readers who’ve read other books in the series, not because of plot reasons but because I’m not sure how compelling the characters are without knowing their paths over the last several books.

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce

Scribner, December 2016

Originally published as Sannheten bortenfor, 2003

Hanne Wilhelmsen book 7

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

No Echo by Anne Holt

No echoI was disappointed with this entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series. The investigation was too bogged down, and the police procedural elements were so thorough or in such long chapters as compared to the brisk short chapters in the rest of the book that the book didn’t flow for me.

No Echo deals with the murder of a celebrity chef, Brede Ziegler. He remains a cipher through much of the book (he’s the man with “no echo”), and I never felt really intrigued by him, which I was the main reason I was lukewarm about the book. This book also featured Billy T. taking the lead for Hanne Wilhelmsen, who was on leave of absence for several months as the book begins, and while I appreciate the plot point of Billy T floundering without his mentor and best friend Wilhelmsen, Holt laid it on pretty thick in this story. I don’t like being overwhelmed with the details of a police investigation when the investigation flounders for such a long time.

What else? A couple characters felt like caricatures to me, and the plot seemed to depend on clues dropped in mysteriously from above instead of being uncovered organically.  The last book was so good that any follow up would pale in comparison, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

No Echo by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen, translated by Anne Bruce

Originally published as Uten ekko (2000)

Hanne Wilhelmsen book 6

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Dead Joker by Anne Holt

dead joker

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

The Lion’s Mouth by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen

lionsmouthI’ve read a lot of Anne Holt, in part because her approach on writing a series is to have a few recurring characters whose place in the story varies. Some of the early books in the series feel like thrillers or police procedurals while 1222 is a locked-room sort of mystery, and Death of the Demon felt almost like a novella with a very obvious social conscience. It’s great to read different kinds of stories with different characters taking prominence, but, unfortunately, this politics-heavy installment in the Hanne Willhelmsen series didn’t quite grab me.

This is a political story: prime minister Birgitte Volter is found shot dead in her office, and the Norwegian government is in crisis. There are a lot of characters to introduce both in the investigatory teams and the political teams.  Hanne Willhelmsen appears as an afterthought: she is living in California and on leave from the police but consults with her good friend, Billy T, another unorthodox detective.

Because of the large cast of characters, the book feels a bit long to me. We get inside everyone’s heads. Also, the book veered into political wrangling and party politics where the points got a bit speech-y or maybe preachy. This may have grated on me more because we’re in the middle of presidential debate season here and I’ve had my fill of political speeches. All in all, this is not my favorite in the series, but I’m curious to read the next installment, Dead Joker.

The Lion’s Mouth by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen

Translated by Anne Bruce

Scribner, 2016

Originally published as Løvens gap, 1997

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

 

Fear Not by Anne Holt

fear notFear Not by Anne Holt, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Originally published as Pengemannen, 2009

Vik/Stubo book 4

I borrowed this book from the library.

Anne Holt writes a couple intersecting series set in Oslo as well as standalones, and they are one of my current favorite series even though I can’t point to an individual book that’s blown me away. I’m a fan because I’m fond of the characters and, of course, I want to know how Hanne Wilhelmsen was shot and paralyzed. Because the US books were published way out of order (1222, book 8 in the Wilhelmsen series came first in the US), I’m hooked.

But back to the Vik/Stubo series. Johanne Vik is an academic who trained as a lawyer and consults with the police, and she is married to Adam Stubo, a policeman who’s first wife and child were murdered. The home-life sections of the book are quite drama-laden, or at least there is a lot that’s happened in the past, as well as Vik’s understandable anxiety about her children, particularly her neuro-atypical daughter Kristiane who is threatened in this book. In some ways it reminds me of Camilla Läckberg with the home and work sections, but the Läckberg book I have read seemed too heavy on family life. The home life is very well-balanced by the rest of the story, which involves a series of murders that are meant to look as suicides or accidental deaths excepting the Christmas Eve murder of a very popular minister. The one thing that does feel out of balance in the book is the sheer number of characters and threads in the first half of the book. I mean, I expected them to be tied together, but it was a disorienting read for a long middle stretch of the novel.

There are a few things I really like about this series: I like seeing characters who are good at what they do. I like seeing investigators who aren’t just haunted by alcohol. I like complicated plots, but ultimately I was not blown away by this particular solution.

Finally, Hanne Wilhelmsen does make an appearance, and I’ve looked up other books that haven’t been translated yet and have discovered that the fact that Holt co-authored a few installments might be holding things up. In any case, I’m tracking down as many English translations as I can find.

Finally, a note about the title. The Norwegian title is Moneyman, which gives a better sense of the conspiracy involved in the book than the English title of Fear Not, which seems to focus just on the minister’s murder, which, while important, is not the entire story. Like I said, there is a lot of plot to be unravelled.

 

Death in Oslo by Anne Holt

deathinosloDeath in Oslo by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson

Vik and Stubo book 3

Sphere, 2009

Originally published as Presidentens valg, 2006

I bought my copy of the book.

Death in Oslo is kind of a misleading title: this book is about the disappearance of the United States’s first female president during her first state visit of her presidency, which happens to be in Oslo. Holt alternates perspectives in every chapter, and it’s a pretty large cast of characters, including the return of Hanne Wilhelmsen, who still remains my favorite Holt character.

I bought this book because I’m an Anne Holt completist, not necessarily because I was interested in the disappearance of the first female president of the United States in Oslo. I tend to prefer books that aren’t in the broad-government-conspiracy/ international-conspiracy realm, and I liked the character through-lines in the Vik and Stubo and Hanne Wilhelmsen series a lot more than I liked the investigation in this particular book. Holt wrote the book in 2006, imagining a world where George W. Bush was not reelected in 2004. It’s a bit hard to read because the criticisms of the US Patriot Act and government surveillance feel old now (and they haven’t hanged much since this book was written).

Holt knows how to serialize: I get just enough tidbits about Vik and Wilhelmsen to keep me reading these books, as difficult as they can be to find. Ultimately, the conspiracy storyline wasn’t my favorite because the antagonists were sketched pretty broadly, but I liked the pacing and I liked most of the characters. I’m looking forward to The Lion’s Mouth and Dead Joker in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Other reviews appear in Scandinavian Crime Fiction and DJ’s Krimiblog.

What Never Happens by Anne Holt

what never happensWhat Never Happens by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson
Grand Central Publishing, 2008
Originally published as Det som aldri skjer, 2004, also published as The Final Murder
I borrowed this book from the library
Vik and Stubo book 2

I’m a huge Anne Holt fan, even though I started with a book far into the Hanne Willhelmsen series, 1222. This series runs concurrently with the Willhelmsen series, just outside Oslo, with detective Adam Stubo and his now-wife Johanne Vik, a profiler who just gave birth to their first child. Adam leads the investigation into a series of murders of public figures: a tv talk show host, a politician, and an upcoming television news figure. Vik, on maternity leave, consults unofficially on the case.

First for the positives: Vik and Stubo’s homelife with a newborn is spot on: the exhaustion, the hormones, the craziness induced by the sleeplessness. Also, Holt humanizes almost all of her characters and has much to say about how police investigations, even if you’re not charged, turn your life upside down for no good reason.

But ultimately, the ending felt a little unsatisfying because the murderer seemed too unrealistic. This may be my serial-killer-storyline fatigue talking, or the murderer seemed especially unrealistic because the other elements of the story felt more so. I loved the first two thirds of the book but not the final third.

Other reviews appear in DJ’s Krimiblog, EuroCrime, Crimepieces, and Mysteries and Paradise.

What Is Mine by Anne Holt

what is mineWhat Is Mine by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson
Also published as Punishment
Warner Books, 2006
Originally published as Det som er mitt, 2001

While I’m eagerly awaiting the translation of more of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen novels, I’m digging into her Vik and Stubo series, which was translated first. This was a very satisfying read that felt a bit different than the other series. Johanne Vik is an academic psychologist who consults on a case of series of child abductions. She is a sort of profiler, but that is not the bulk of the work she does in the novel. Stubo is a widower whose story is quite sad: he returned to the detective inspector post after his wife’s death, and this book feels only partly like a police procedural.

This novel has a lot of plot and a lot of characters. Vik begins the novel investigating the wrongfully imprisoned Aksel Seier: after serving nine years in prison for murdering and raping a very young child, he was released from prison without explanation. Later she becomes involved in a series of child abductions after resisting a great deal, and realistically so, I believe. And why do I recommend reading a novel about such horrible crimes? Because Holt is very good at developing her characters. This is a novel about how to work with such horrible crimes or how to live with such horrible crimes (or horrible events, period), and the portraits cover a range of grief and other responses.

This novel is a bit long, but that only stands out to me because the first and last sections of the book are very quickly paced (complete with lots of short chapters) while the middle is a bit more ponderous. The relationship between Vik and Stubo is not typical because they’re both a bit odd, and other characters stand out as well. It’s not exploitative of the horrible plot that is the center of the book, and that’s quite a feat.

Death of the Demon by Anne Holt

death of the demonDeath of the Demon by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Scribner, June 2013
Originally published as Demonens død, 1995
Hanne Wilhelmsen book 3

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I’m a fan of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt (I haven’t tried her other series yet), and Death of the Demon is a good installment in the series. It wasn’t as emotionally affecting as the last installment in the series, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

This book finds Hanne moving ahead professionally and personally: she was recently promoted to chief inspector, a role to which she’s still growing accustomed. She enjoys the investigatory aspects of her jobs a bit too much, and, honestly, her work with her old friend Billy T., recently transferred from the drug interdiction team to the homicide section is one of the high points of the book for me. They have a good rapport.

The story revolves around the murder of the director of a foster home for older children owned by the Salvation Army in Oslo, Agnes Vestavik. This murder does not garner the same media heat as a double murder taking up most of the department’s resources, which is a nice switch from the previous book in the series. The investigation into Agnes’s home and work lives takes up the bulk of the book, and her story runs in tandem with the story of Olav, a twelve-year-old boy who had been living at the home for just a few weeks when Agnes is murdered. His story is told primarily in flashback by himself and by his mother, and it is quite affecting.

Affecting is a word I keep coming back to when I think about this book: Holt has great empathy for her characters: her heroes as well as her villains and their stories. They all have complicated lives, and she does that complication justice. The actual resolution of the mystery was not the strongest part of the story for me (it’s a sort of locked room situation), but that’s not to say the story was weak. I’m just comparing it to other crimes I’ve read about recently.

Other reviews appear in FictionFan’s Book Reviews.

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

blessed are those who thirst

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Scribner, 2012
Originally published as Salige er de som tørster, 1994
Source: library

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..

Sarah at Crimepieces and Norman at Crimescraps have also reviewed this book.