Anne Holt is another Scandinavian author whose books have been translated out of order. Unlike some writers however, such as Jo Nesbo and Liza Marklund, it does make a significant difference to the sense of the narrative. In 1222, detective Hanne Wilhelmsen is in a wheelchair and reference is made to children she has had with her partner, Cecile. In Death of the Demon, the catastrophe that clearly befalls Hanne has yet to occur and part of the narrative is given over to a heated debate whether she and Cecile should have children. It’s quite frustrating for the reader who knows future plot lines, although my guess is that the success of 1222 is responsible for the earlier, and slighter, books now being translated into English.
Like the previous novel in the series, Blessed are Those Who Thirst, the book resolves around a single issue: in this case a damaged child who may have been involved in the murder of a social worker. Olav is grossly overweight due to poor early childhood and he is sent to group foster home which he immediately hates. When the home’s head, Agnes Vestavik, is found with a knife through her heart, Olav is discovered missing although Hanne is reluctant to lay the blame immediately on the absent child. Agnes appears to have dug out secrets of other carers in the home and the identity of the murderer remains unclear.
One of the attractions of Anne Holt’s books is that they’re not the huge tomes that characterise much of Scandinavian crime fiction. In many ways they remind me of the books I read as a teenager, with a single plot strand and a tight narrative structure. And I do still enjoy reading this style of book but my problem with Death of the Demon is that the plot is very slight. A woman is killed; a boy runs away. And that’s about it. We get to see slightly more of Hanne’s character but compared to the series’ excellent debut, The Blind Goddess, and the atmospheric 1222, this book pales in comparison. It was a decent enough read but nothing more. And I’ve come to expect much more from crime fiction these days. And perhaps the length of novels is a reflection of this.
I’m sure Holt’s fans will read the book anyway. We already know that this is a series on its way somewhere and I’m not giving up on it. But fingers crossed that the next one will be more substantial. The translation, incidentally, by Anne Bruce, is wonderfully clear.