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: F G Cottam – The Colony

This blog isn’t turning into a into a supernatural thriller site, I promise, but I like my reading to be spontaneous. An interesting The Colonyexchange on Twitter made me interrupt the current book that I was reading, clear out my kindle and download a novel I wanted to read that is only available as an e-book. In my review of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s I Remember You I mentioned the writer F G Cottam who writes excellent thrillers with a supernatural bent. On Twitter he mentioned that his latest novel The Colony is available only as an e-book. My kindle and I have a fractious relationship. I don’t like reading on it and it responds to my neglect with screen freezes and irregular 3G access. However, as I wanted to read Cottam’s latest book, I cleared out some of the old novels that had been sitting on it for a while and charged it up.

The colony of the book’s title is the remote New Hope Island in the Hebrides. In 1825 a group of settlers, led by former slave master Seamus Ballantyne, disappeared from the island, leaving no trace of their whereabouts. The Marie Celeste style disappearance has been a cause of speculation ever since. Media magnate Alexander McIntyre, who is obsessed by the story, decides to launch an modern-day expedition to the island to try to work out what happened. An advance group of military veterans soon discover that the island is being assailed by malignant forces and one of their number disappears. Undeterred, McIntyre sends his experts to the ruins of the community, where an archaeologist, psychic, alien expert, former policeman and virologist all attempt to put their own solutions to the mystery. However soon they to begin to disappear….

Those familiar with Cottam’s writing (The House of Lost Souls, Dark Echo etc) will enjoy this latest book. It has many of the elements that I associate with his writing – a slow build-up of tension and introduction to the main characters followed by a tumultuous and malevolent resolution of the narrative. There is a very large cast of characters in this book. I didn’t find this a problem and I could certainly differentiate the main protagonists but it does mean multiple points of view (which I always enjoy). The most interesting character was Lucy Church, a journalist who accompanies the group and is the first to realise that the expedition is not going to end well. There is also an interesting narrative from Philip Fortescue, a museum curator who holds the key to the resolution of the mystery and is on a race to the island to rescue who he can.

As usual there is a strong feeling of malevolence to Cottam’s writing and I would recommend anyone who’s not read him before to give this book a go. At one point I thought I might be reading an Agatha Christie style And Then There was None type plot but …. well you’ll have to read it yourselves to find out what happens.

I bought my copy of the book which is currently £1.99 on kindle.