Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

blind goddessBlind Goddess by Anne Holt, translated by Tom Geddes
Scribner, 2012, originally published in Norwegian as Blind gudinne in 1993
Hanne Wilhelmsen book 1
Source: library

I read a lot of police procedurals, and it’s my favorite sub-genre of the last few years. Blind Goddess is a bit more than a police procedural: it follows both the police and the prosecution, much like the long-running TV series Law and Order. The main characters are Hanne Wilhelmsen, a detective with about ten years of experience and Håkon Sand, a police prosecutor who graduated at the bottom of his law school class but is nevertheless a dogged and effective prosecutor. The third main character is civil lawyer Karen Borg, an old friend of Sand’s who discovers a drug dealer whose murder sparks the investigation at the center of the novel.

My main impression of the book is that it feels busy: the plot that starts with the murder of a drug dealer becomes more gruesome and involves a broader conspiracy that will play out in subsequent books. I much preferred all the time Holt spent with the three main characters and their work and personal lives. I suspect it felt busy to me because Holt was laying the groundwork for plots that will cover the next novels in the series. That being said, I really like the main characters and I’m eager to read more.

A couple unrelated items in the book struck me: (1) is it really not a problem for a witness to a murder investigation to serve as a criminal defense lawyer in the case? I understand why Karen Borg was a defense lawyer, but I expected there to be more opposition to her serving as defense counsel; and (2) the reliance on fax machines was a blast from the recent past.

This is the second Hanne Wilhelmsen book I’ve read and the first one in the series. In the U.S., the locked-room mystery 1222, the eighth novel in the series, was published first, and unfortunately, it gives away a significant part of Hanne’s story. That being said, I’m eager to read books two through seven as they’re translated. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst has already been published, and Death of the Demon is due later this year.

Blind Goddess has also been reviewed by Maxine at Eurocrime and Norman at Crime Scraps

1222 by Anne Holt

1222 is the story of a train that crashes en route from Oslo to Bergen at an elevation on 1222 meters in the village of Finse.   The survivors are evacuated to a hotel named, descriptively enough, Finse 1222, and they are holed up there fo ra few days, during which time two men are murdered.  One hundred and ninety-six people live in relative comfort in the main hotel building as the story begins. This story is very much in the vein of a locked room Agatha Christie mystery, as the author has acknowledged, but this is a Norwegian version.  For readers who are a bit leery of the gruesomeness of some Scandinavian crime novels, this book is a relief:  the murders happen off-stage.
The investigator is Hanne Willhelmsen, a retired detective who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury when she was shot by the corrupt police chief she was investigating.  She has been off the force for four years, and in those four years she has become more and more of a loner who spends time only with her partner, their young daughter, and the live-in housekeeper. Her three days in the hotel are not only her return to investigating homicides, but also her return to interacting with other humans.  She’s prickly but interesting, and she’s definitely not a cliché.
What Holt does well is capture the group mood during their unforeseen stay in a remote mountain hotel during an extreme blizzard.  Willhelmsen and an impromptu team of investigators—a doctor, a lawyer, and the hotel manager—bond as they investigate the two murders, at first trying to keep the murders a secret by claiming that the first victim “suffered a brain aneurysm,” instead of a bullet wound to the head.  It’s a claustrophobic story of course, with the worsening storm outside.  Besides the inquiry into the homicides,there is a parallel story about the mysterious final train compartment.  Its occupants were evacuated first, and they occupy a wing that is guarded by armed men.
I admit that I don’t read many locked room mysteries—or at least I haven’t lately—but 1222 stands out with its characters.  Holt provides enough back story for not only the victims and perpetrators, but also with Hanne Willhelmsen, of course, and Magnus Streng, the doctor who suffers from dwarfism who becomes as close of a friend as Hanne will allow herself. This book is the eighth in the Hanne Willhelmsen series, and I am looking forward to previous novels in the series being translated into English.

1222 by Anne Holt
Scribner
Publication date: December 27, 2011
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

My Favorite Reads of 2015

2015 is the year when I read a lot more older books than usual, and a good chunk of my favorites were not published this year. My list is all crime fiction except for one true-crime book, and it’s heavy on female authors.

  1. Margaret Millar is my favorite discovery of the year. Her books are shorter, more twisted psychological fiction than what I usually read. Beast in View and How Like an Angel were outstanding, and I’ve read a few more that were good as well.
  2. I’m still a fan of the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The two installments I read this year were good in terms of plot, and I”m still hooked because of the bits of Beck’s backstory that came in in these books. I’m a sucker for serialized stories, even if they don’t end on cliffhangers. The Laughing Policeman and The Fire Engine that Disappeared are quite great.
  3. Continuing the theme of series/ authors I love, Anne Holt’s stuff is so good. I’m not blown away by any particular book, but I am hooked on her two series set in Oslo, the Vik/Stubo and Hanne Wilhelmsen books.
  4. My favorite book I read this year that was published this year was In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward. It has great intertwining mysteries involving a current suicide and a long-ago missing-child case and interesting characters.
  5. Jayne Keeney is my favorite character, still. The Dying Beach was a strong entry in the PI series set in Thailand by Angela Savage.
  6. Mildred Pierce  by James M. Cain was a big surprise. A story about a complicated woman and her complicated daughter. It’s great.
  7. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith was also a surprise to me (it’s been years since I saw the Minghella movie). I have a lot more Highsmith waiting for my on my TBR.
  8. Echoes from the Dead by Johann Theorin was a great first entry in the Öland Quartet.
  9. A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine– ingeniously plotted. She and Millar win the plotting contest among the books I’ve read this year. Also, this book beats Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in terms of criminal undergraduates: Vine’s is more effective because it’s not so long.
  10. This House of Grief by Helen Garner has stayed with me the longest. It’s true-crime following the trial of a man accused of murdering his children, and it’s deeply sad.

 

 

 

My Year in Reading 2013

After writing a couple reading challenge wrap-up posts, I’m a bit leery of writing another look back at 2013, but I wanted to check in with some statistics and my list of favorites for the year.

I reviewed a total of 52 books on Ms. Wordopolis Reads in 2013, and 25 of them were translations. Also, close to 50% of the authors were women: 24 by female authors, one by a pair of women, and one by a male and female duo. My books were set in 24 different countries, and the most-visited countries were the US (10), Sweden (7), and Norway (6). The statistic most surprising to me was that 33 of the books were by authors new-to-me (63%), but that shouldn’t be shocking because I was part of the Global Reading Challenge which was full of new-to-me authors for me.

I’ve written about my favorites of the year already in some challenge wrap-up and Crime Fiction Pick of the Month posts, so I’ll just list them below:

  1. Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo
  2. Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
  3. The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
  4. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
  5. The Hanne Willhelmsen series by Anne Holt

Happy new year, and thanks for reading!

2013 Translation Challenge Wrap-Up

2013transchallenge-3Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm hosted the 2013 Translation Challenge, and I joined in order to refocus my reading from US crime fiction to more international novels. Seeing as, overall for the year, I read barely any American crime novels, I was able to meet the goal of 12 translations pretty easily. Nevertheless, I’m glad I joined the challenge to meet new bloggers, find new reading suggestions, and to refocus my reading for the year.

Here is the list of books I read:

  1. The Return by Håkan Nesser (Sweden)
  2. The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  3. Blind Goddess by Anne Holt (Norway)
  4. Room No. 10 by Åke Edwardson (Sweden)
  5. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill (Spain)
  6. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  7. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt (Norway)
  8. The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg (Sweden)
  9. Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft (Sweden)
  10. More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff (Sweden)
  11. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (France)
  12. Death of the Demon by Anne Holt (Norway)

As you can see, I was on a definite Scandinavian reading kick the first half of the year as I completed this challenge. Anne Holt is my favorite author of the bunch, and there were only a handful of books that were nowhere near my favorites (Edwardson, Läckberg, and Grebe and Träff). I consider that a good reading experience.

Settled Blood by Mari Hannah

settled bloodSettled Blood by Mari Hannah
DCI Kate Daniels book 2
Witness Impulse, November 2013
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

While I was a little leery about jumping into this series with book two, I don’t think I missed too much information about DCI Kate Daniels’s personal and professional lives in order to enjoy this novel. Hannah is good at not dumping too much exposition into the first sections of the book: she doesn’t slow things down. Daniels is a closeted lesbian detective in Northumbria, and this particular case involves the murder of a young woman found at Hadrian’s Wall and the disappearance of another young college student within days of the murder. The plotting was very good, and the characters were interesting: everyone on the police team has plenty of backstory, from Daniels’s mentor Bright to her team members. Daniels herself is recovering from the trauma of her last case, the focus of the book The Murder Wall, and her break-up with police profiler Jo Soulsby. My only reservation about the story is that it centered on a murdered young woman and an abducted woman in harm’s way, and I’ve read and seen that story too many times. I enjoyed this book, but, to be honest, I prefer Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series a bit more.

Witness Impulse is a new imprint of Harper Collins that is digital only, and they publish both new and backlist titles. The first two DCI Daniels books are available now, and the third will be published in the U.S. in December 2013.

Other reviews appear in Reviewing the Evidence and Curious Book Fans.

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

land of dreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally
University of Minnesota Press, September 2013
Originally published as Drømmenes land, 2008

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I picked up this book for a number of reasons: (1) I’d like to read some Norwegian crime fiction that’s not by Jo Nesbø or Anne Holt. (2) The Land of Dreams has won or been nominated for a number of awards, which could be a plus or a negative because I don’t know the idiosyncracies of judging panels for every crime fiction award. (3) I liked Nunnally’s translation of Misterioso by Arne Dahl. (4) It’s a book written by a Norwegian about an area of the U.S. teeming with Norwegian Americans, which makes for an interesting perspective. According to the publisher, Sundstøl and his wife lived in Minnesota on Lake Superior for two years, and the time inspired him to write the Minnesota Trilogy. (5) And finally, I’m interested in the history of Great Lakes states since I’ve lived in Michigan over 10 years. But what about the story?

The Land of Dreams is a moody book that centers on Lance Hansen, a forty-something U.S. Forest Service police officer who discovers a dead Norwegian man near an area named Baraga’s Cross on Lake Superior. While Lance is not a participant in the investigation since he’s a main witness, the story follows him the most because of his discovery of the body and he is the local historian, complete with the county historical archive in his home. The moodiness comes about because of the gruesomeness of the crime, the intractableness of the investigation, and the lonesomeness of Lance as he’s trying to cope with the shock of the crime.

Some readers may fault sections of the book as an info dump: there’s an awful lot of time spent with the Norwegian settlers of Cook County Minnesota, Lance’s ancestors and his immediate family, the Ojibway who first settled the land, the fur trappers, and more. I didn’t mind the slow pace because I don’t know much about the background and history of northern Minnesota. Also, the history and the stories people tell are central to the solving of the crime as well as Lance’s investigation into the disappearance of an Ojibway man named Swamper Caribou over a hundred years ago. It definitely left me with a lot to think about “stories people tell over and over though they know it’s not true.” While I tend to prefer novels with more plot, this was an interesting read.

My June Reading Summary

It’s halfway through the year, and I’m happy with what I’ve read this month and this half of the year. I’m grateful to the bloggers I read for steering me to such interesting picks. Three of this month’s books were very good (Hill, Vargas and Holt), and my favorite is The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill.

summer dead toys

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

2. Black Star Nairobi by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

3. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

4. More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, translated by Paul Norlen

5. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, translated by Laura McGoughlin

6. Death of the Demon by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce

7. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds

May Reading and Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I like doing monthly recap posts because I’m always surprised by something, whether it be patterns in my reading or whether my opinion of a book has changed between my review and this monthly recap. This month, I realize that I like reading classic crime, and I want to read at least one older book per month. Here’s a list of the books I reviewed for the blog in May:

  1. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt– This is a very strong entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series: a short novel about a string of violent crimes during a hot summer.
  2. Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo– The first book in the Marseille Trilogy paints a very bleak picture of life and crime in that city.
  3. The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg– I’m new to this series, and I was struck by how much Läckberg focused on the characters’ personal lives at the expense of the crime.
  4. Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seichō Matsumoto– Very good novel written over 50 years ago showcasing a hopeless case with a quite interesting ending.
  5. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø– I loved this entry in the Harry Hole series.
  6. Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft– And I ended my month’s reviews with another book about a string of crimes during a hot summer. I’m interested in checking out the other books in the series because I like the main character, Malin Fors.

This month, I’m happily surprised at the quality of the books I read. Three of the six books I read were very, very good, and my favorite is (unsurprisingly) The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø.

redeemer

Please check out Kerrie’s blog for a compilation of other bloggers’ crime fiction picks of the month.

March Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I liked the majority of the books I read in March, but I also read a few duds. It’s bound to happen when I try lots of new-to-me authors and try to meet my goals for the 2013 Global Reading Challenge. Here’s a quick summary of what I reviewed this month:

  1. Room No. 10 by Åke Edwardson– a very slow murder investigation
  2. The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero– PI Brule’s first case, which takes place in Chile, Cuba, Mexico, and East Germany
  3. Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes– not my favorite read
  4. The Name of a Bullfighter by Luis Sepúlveda–very quick noir story about recovering German coins
  5. Blind Goddess by Anne Holt– first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, good characterizations

My pick of the month is Blind Goddess by Anne Holt, and it’s because I’m interested in the characters.

Visit Mysteries in Paradise for a collection of Crime Fiction Picks of the Month.