Review: Anne Holt – Blessed Are Those Who Thirst

Anne HoltNow that publisher Corvus is translating the books featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen in order, we are getting to see the development of the character from her early police career to the physically and emotionally damaged Hanne in 1222. The first book in the series, The Blind Goddess, was a substantial read and the best Holt I’d read to date. In contrast, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst is a slimmer, quick read that nevertheless shows why the series has become so popular in Norway.

A series of bloody crime scenes appear around Oslo. Rooms with significant amounts of blood are being discovered but with the victims removed from the scene.  The only clue detective Hanne Wilhelmsen has to help her investigation are a series of eight digit numbers that are written in blood on the walls. Hanne and her colleague, police attorney Håkon Sand, discover the digits correspond to the identification numbers of recent immigrants.  Hanne’s focus on the case is interrupted when she is forced to warn the father of a recent rape victim against pursuing his own investigation. However, both father and daughter are shell-shocked from the attack and intent on meting out revenge on the rapist.

Holt is Norway’s former Minister of Justice and her legal experience is what makes these books so interesting to read. There is always a solid judicial aspect to the narrative, as dilemmas and complex issues are tackled head-on. In Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, although the bloodied crime scenes are the focus of the investigation, by far the most moving sections involved the rape victim Kristine. The violence of the attack, her shock and despair afterwards and the impact of the rape on her father are dealt with in a moving manner. The inability of either of them to move on and Hanne’s instinctive sympathy for them both forms the backbone of the story. Once more we see the lines between right and wrong begin to blur.

The development of Hanne as a character, in such a slim book, is sacrificed to the story although we get insights into her conflict as she becomes increasingly unable to hide her female partner, Cecile, from work colleagues. There is, however, a moving section when Hanne asks Cecile what she would do if she, Hanne, was raped. For those of us who know the cynical and damaged Hanne from the much later book 1222, it makes you wonder the trials that the character will be going through over the next few novels.

Overall this was a moving, short read that I’m sure will please Holt’s existing fans. It left you with some interesting questions about the nature of justice and what we might be compelled to do in a similar situation.

Thanks to Corvus for my copy of the book. The translation was by Anne Bruce.

Review: Anne Holt – The Blind Goddess

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?

I bought my copy of the book. Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime and Crime Scraps Review.