Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

A crime wave in Oslo…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

blessed are those who thirstThere 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from her colleagues and family – the book was only written a couple of decades ago, but oddly that strand already feels outdated, and rather clichéd.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.

Anne Holt (photo: Jo Michael)
Anne Holt
(photo: Jo Michael)

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.

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40 thoughts on “Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

    • Haha! I think that’s probably how I ended up reading her too! I certainly like her writing style and Hanne’s a good character. One day I’ll catch up with the rest…

  1. I’m very glad you liked this one, FictionFan. I think that, overall, Holt tells a very good story, and I like Hanne Wilhelmsen as a character. Interesting point, too, about the way that authors develop (and, hopefully, improve) over time. So on the one hand, it’s most logical to follow a series from the beginning. But on the other, if the first book or two don’t thorough impress, but you’ve read a later book and liked it, you know things’ll get better.

    • Yes, I like Hanne too – she’s tough without being a maverick. I must say that’s the reason I’m always quite happy to dip in mid-series – I think you often get a fairer idea of the author from the later books and then I’m willing to put up with any issues in the earlier ones. It all depends on how much of a running storyline there is – sometimes you can feel a bit lost jumping in, but usually each novel has a strong enough major plot to stand alone.

  2. Another one I haven’t read, FF! Thanks for an excellent review, but I think I might pass. I have way too many books on my TBR to add more unless the subject matter is particularly intriguing (and this doesn’t sound so). I know from personal experience how HARD it is to write a good middle — beginnings get rewritten so many times, they practically shine; same with endings). Not even the author wants to wade through that murky middle again, ha!

    • I’ll let you off with this one, then! 😉 Yes, indeed, it’s often the middle that lets a book down, especially crime. I think the author gets a great idea for the plot and how the ending should work, but doesn’t quite know how to fill in the bit in the middle, so you end up with a lot of filler. Oh, for the good old days, when crime books were much shorter and so the middle could basically be missed out…

  3. I am still trying to get the notion of ‘self-inflicted rape’ out of my head… the first thing I thought of wasn’t date rapes and now I think this book is ruined for me forever 😀

    • Haha! I know – it’s a truly hideous phrase, isn’t it? Fortunately, Hanne felt much the same way so at least it didn’t feel like it was the author’s own opinion… 😉

    • I read that phrase and wanted to punch my computer. I’m not sure how rape is treated in other countries, but in the U.S. our attitudes from top to bottom are despicable. I actually read news story yesterday about how there are THOUSANDS of untested rape kits sitting in police possession that date back to the 1980s. Some cities are creating laws that require police to send the kits to the lab within a certain number of days, and the lab must test the kit within a certain number of days. Think of how awful victims must feel knowing this, especially since a rape kit is a highly invasive procedure that takes hours.

      • Yes, it’s an attitude that still exists sadly, though certainly here things have improved a lot since the time this book was written. Not that the phrase represents the author’s view – it came from the mouth of one of the characters partly to show how out-of-date his ideas were.

    • Yeah, it’s a recurring problem, especially in crime. And especially since “they” decided all crime books have to be so long! A two-hundred page book doesn’t allow so much room for sagging…

    • I know – I’m awash with half-read series! Haha! It’s a lovely phrase, isn’t it? Fortunately, Hanne felt much the same as we do, so at least it was clearly the character’s thoughts and not the author’s… 😉

  4. I think this is a series that has been translated and published in English a bit from back to front. Therefore, it’s one I’ve been waiting to read. Plus all the other books call me. Anyway, I’m interested in it and haven’t checked lately to see the progress of the translations. Likely time for me to begin. At the beginning, of course. LOL

    • I hate when they do that! I don’t mind jumping in in the middle, but then if I like a series I want to be able to read them in order. Yes, I think this must have been the earliest one available when I bought it a year or two ago, but now no. 1 is available – I seem to be going in reverse! 😉

  5. That’s a great review and I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I’m not familiar with this author so I’ll have to check out her books.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and nice to “meet” you! 🙂

  6. Great review of what sounds like an interesting read – perhaps we should start a petition to order (particularly crime writers) to shorten their books so they don’t sag in the middle – this problem does seem to be getting worse! Having said that if the characters are right I don’t mind a bit of personal stuff and I like the sound of Hanne I might well check this out.

    • It does! Though I’ve felt recently that books are beginning to get a bit shorter again – for a while it was ridiculous, every book was coming in at about 500 pages! I think you’d probably enjoy this series – Hanne’s a good character, and I suspect she gets a bit more angst-ridden as time goes on… 😉

  7. FictionFan, I have been following your reviews for a while now ,and I am aware that you hate what you call wallowing in grief, but I can’t remember why. I would never take you as a person crass enough to tell a victim to “get over it and move on,” so is it with the writing? Is it that staying in the head space of a victim for too long is really uncomfortable?

    • It’s the voyeurism – the using of other people’s misery to entertain. It’s a trend that’s been growing in crime fiction for each author to try to outdo the one before in dredging the depths for no purpose but to sell books. I have no objection to serious subjects in fiction if they are treated seriously, but not just to provide vicarious thrills. Murder (in fiction) used to be some unpleasant man killed by one of his unpleasant relatives usually for money, with clues and a mystery. Then it morphed into sleazy graphic serial killers with a fixation on woman as victim. Now it’s morphed again – still woman as victim, but now grief-stricken because of some terrible deed that she has survived, often the death of her child. I find it all a bit sickening, and definitely not entertaining! And each book is just a little worse than the one before – the last misery-fest I read had FOUR abused and murdered chldren and EIGHT grieving parents… not a story I find appealing, and I’m not keen on what our collective fascination with wanting to read stuff like this for fun says about our society… But to lighten it up a little after that rant… https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/friday-frippery-if-you-cant-beat-em/

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