Norwegian author Anne Holt writes excellent mysteries set in and around Oslo. Like many Scandinavian writers, she suffers from the curse of being translated out of order and it is left to the reader to try and piece together the story of the characters. This is particularly the case with the series featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen who in the excellent 1222 is suffering from a serious disability. Although it is been sold on Amazon as ‘Hanne Wilhelmsen #1’, it is in fact the eighth book in the series and the Hanne we see in The Blind Goddess is a very different character from the later novel.
The book opens with lawyer Karen Borg discovering the dead body of a drug dealer in the street. When a young Dutch student is found covered in blood and charged with the murder he insists on being represented by the woman who found the body. Although not an expert in criminal law, Karen agrees to defend the student although she comes under pressure from the prominent defence lawyer Peter Strup to hand over the case to him. When a shady criminal lawyer, Hans Olsen is found shot days later, Detective Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen and police attorney Håkon Sand are convinced there is a link with the dead drug dealer. However crucial pieces of evidence keep disappearing and it appears that a conspiracy operating high up in the Oslo legal system is anxious to ensure the case remains unsolved.
Although written in 1993, The Blind Goddess had none of the ‘period’ feel you sometimes get with books that are translated long after their original publication. Only in a couple of instances (Karen’s Ford Sierra) were you reminded that this was written before the age of mobile phones and the internet. I thought the mystery element of the book was very well plotted and must have been a strong debut novel for Holt. As you would expect from a first novel, there is plenty of attention given to developing the characters, particularly that of Hanne with her hidden private life and of the developing relationship between Karen and Håkon.
Overall I think this is the strongest Anne Holt book I’ve read and it’s good to hear that they are going to be published now in order. The next in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, Blessed are those that Thirst, is out next year. One slight niggle: the blurb at the back of the book had the wrong name for the dead lawyer – Hansa Larsen instead of Hans E Olsen. Doesn’t anyone check these things?