Friday, March 29, 2013



Pages: 211
Date: 29/03/2013
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 Hanne Wilhemsen
             Received from Corvus books
             Through Nudge

It is May and Oslo finds itself in the middle of an unseasonal heat-wave when Detective Hanne Wilhelmsen finds herself facing a disturbing scene. The abandoned shed is covered in blood, too much of it to have come from one single victim. But of such a victim there is no sign. All that can be seen are the copious amounts of blood and an eight-digit number painted on the wall with some of the blood. It is a Saturday night. Exactly a week later, Hanne is facing a similar scene. The location may be different but all the other details are exactly the same; too much blood and a – different – eight-digit number on the wall. But without a victim, the police have no idea what exactly they are investigating here.

A week later, again on a Saturday, a young student is violently raped. Although she has seen her attacker and can picture him perfectly in her mind she is unable to provide the police with a clear description of the man. And with cases piling up, and rapes being almost impossible to prove and prosecute Hanne and her team are not making any progress in finding the muscular rapist.

Then a body is found. And a link is established between the bloody numbers, the foreign woman and asylum seekers without connections. Someone is targeting these lonely and defenceless women. And a woman just like those who have already been killed is living in the same building as the student who was raped and she has gone missing.

Meanwhile the student and her father, having lost patience with the police and their lack of progress, decide to take the investigation into their own hands. Suddenly everybody is facing a race against time as the hot weather at last breaks.

Anne Holt does not write cosy stories. What she does write is realistic, well plotted and thrilling mysteries. Her detectives work in the real world where there is not enough time in the day to give every case the attention it needs. Her investigators make mistakes and find themselves scrambling to make up for them. Her characters are far from perfect but all the more real and recognisable for it.

I like the way in which the story is presented to the reader. We’re given enough information to keep up with the investigators or even be ahead of them at times but not so much that it spoils the mystery. The thoughts and emotions of the characters all come across as real; the behaviour of the rape victim is completely plausible as are the feelings of powerlessness her father experiences. The frustration and fatigue the investigators experience as a result of lack of man power and a growing mountain of unsolved cases is probably more realistic than we would want to acknowledge. It all makes for a powerful and thought-provoking read.

I also like the way in which these stories are written. This book was easy to read and very hard to put down. I like the balance between the investigations and the private lives of the characters in these books. The story and the investigation in it progress at a steady pace, with the character’s private details adding to the story rather than distracting from it.

There are times when it is obvious that we are reading a translated work, but not in an irritating way. In fact, on occasion this gives us wonderful expressions such as:

“It was so early not even the devil had managed to put on his shoes.”

And that in turn gives us a real sense that we are in a ‘different’ country, with a different language.

As with most Scandinavian mysteries I’ve read, this book provides a social commentary as well as an investigation. In this case the issues dealt with are rape and asylum seekers and neither of these come out of the book smelling of roses. Unfortunately that won’t come as a surprise to any reader, whether they are from a Scandinavian country or anywhere else in the world. These issues, however, are presented as fact and neither preached about or excused.

Anne Holt has given her readers a short but thrilling mystery that will keep them engrossed and make them think; she is very good at what she does.

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