Review: Anne Holt – Death of the Demon

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, Death of the Demondetective 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.

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.