Disovering a new author is always fun, and when their writing combines two of my favourite things—crime and Scandinavia—it’s that much more fun. Anne Holt has often been described as ‘the Val McDermid of Norway’, but I would beg to differ. Apart from the fact that they both write crime fiction, there is nothing similar about them. Would you call Ian Rankin the ‘Reginald Hill of Scotland’? Bah!
Anyway, I digress. The first Anne Holt I read was 1222. It was the eighth book in the Hanne Wilhelmson series, but the first to be translated to English. A sort of locked-room-mystery, in 1222, after a train derails following a blizzard, the rescued passengers are holed up in a hotel nearby as the storm rages on. Of course, a murder takes place, and the irascible wheelchair-bound and retired police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen reluctantly finds herself with a case on her hands.
1222 did well and, subseqently, the other books were translated as well. So I decided to start from the beginning, with The Blind Goddess. In it, Hanne Wilhelmsen makes a late entry and shares story space with a number of other characters, mainly police prosecutor Håkon Sand. A murder opens the story, but we end up with a drugs-related conspiracy and high-level government corruption that rattles Oslo.
It is easy to see how much the characters and storytelling have developed from the first book to the eighth. For one, The Blind Goddess was somewhat of an effort to read. For another, without having read 1222, I’m not sure how much of a feel one would have got for Hanne or even taken much of an interest in her. One wouldn’t guess that the rest of the series was going to be devoted to her. I am guessing the translation is to blame for the flat storytelling in Blind Goddess, though I’m keen to read through the series to find out how Hanne ended up in a wheelchair and how she changed from an easygoing, friendly sort to a bit of a grump. The second book, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, is waiting in my Kobo ereader right now. If I like it, I’ll do a review of the whole series.
Anne Holt’s other series of note features Johanne Vik, an Oslo University psychology professor, and Adam Stubø, a detective inspector and former FBI profiler. These are also crime novels based in Oslo. Book one, Punishment (also published as What is Mine [why do they have to change names and confuse us?!]), is also awaiting my attention.
Holt has been a journalist, news anchor, lawyer (who worked for the police and also founded her own agency) and also Norway’s minister of justice. Clearly, she knows what she is writing about. Plus, she has a character awaiting interesting developments in her life. Reason enough for a crime fiction connoisseur to dig in.