A crime wave in Oslo…
😀 😀 😀 🙂
There seems to be a crime wave going on in the heat of the Oslo summer, and Detective Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen and her colleagues are feeling the strain. There’s been a spate of rapes, and though many of them are ‘self-inflicted’, as Hanne’s boss charmingly puts it – i.e., date rapes – one is different. A stranger invades a young girl’s flat and the rape is particularly violent and degrading. Meantime, some practical joker is spending Saturday evenings creating what look like blood-soaked crime scenes around the town, but with no bodies. Hanne’s not convinced it is a joker though…
Hanne is a likeable detective – functional, hard-working, relates well to the people in her team. Her private life is stable, though she’s hiding her long-term gay relationship from her colleagues and family – the book was only written a couple of decades ago, but oddly that strand already feels outdated, and rather clichéd. This means she doesn’t socialise much with the team, so in some ways she’s a bit isolated, though not a traditional loner. And she has a good friend in her colleague Billy T, who maybe knows her even better than she thinks.
Both strands of the plot – the rape and the Saturday night “massacres” – are interesting and Holt is excellent at setting the scene. The description of the rape is graphic without being gratuitous, but for my taste there’s too much dwelling on the despair of the rape victim and her father in the aftermath. My views on misery-fests are well known to anyone who reads my reviews, but I do read crime primarily as entertainment and sometimes the voyeuristic wallowing becomes a bit much. However, the characterisation of both victim and father is very well done and their actions are for the most part believable.
Holt gets off to a great start, letting us know enough about the recurring characters to make this work fine as a standalone, and introducing the two major plot-lines nice and early so that the reader is hooked. And the ending takes on aspects of the thriller. It goes pretty far over the credibility line in places – one of these ones where you feel if people would just have a quick conversation a lot of angst could be avoided – but the quality of the writing carries it.
The major problem with the book is the tricky middle. For long stretches of time the police don’t actually seem to do anything much, while constantly complaining of overwork. Can it really take three weeks to determine whether the blood left in the “massacre” scenes is human? And while they wait for results they do nothing else to try to find out who might be behind it. Is it really credible that the rape victim’s father is able to find clues about the rape that the police missed, by merely questioning neighbours? If so, the competence of Hanne and her team can’t be terribly high. Even I might have thought to ask if anyone had seen a strange car around the neighbourhood on the night in question. The overwork excuse is dragged out to cover every lapse that is required to allow the plot to develop into a thriller, but that leaves credibility as the major victim.
All this lack of investigation allows plenty of time for personal relationship stuff, though – most of which I could cheerfully have lived without, but that’s just personal preference. And then when Holt finally moves towards the denouement she does so by having Hanne have a couple of those brilliant moments of inspired guesswork, based on pretty much nothing, so beloved of the fictional detective.
This is the second book in the successful Hanne Wilhelmsen series, which now stands at nine, though I think only eight have been translated into English so far. As so often, I jumped into the middle of this series with the third book, Death of the Demon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This one didn’t impress me quite so much, but its problems are of the kind that often infect authors’ early books. On the whole, they were outweighed by the strengths – the quality of the writing enhanced by a good translation from Anne Bruce, the excellent characterisation, and the basic idea behind the plot, even if the execution of it wasn’t quite as good. And knowing that by the time of Death of the Demon, Holt was more in control of her plotting and pacing means this is a series I will look forward to returning to in the future.