Archive for July 15, 2012

The author Anne Holt has worked as a journalist and news anchor, as well as working for two years for the Oslo Police. She founded her own law firm and served as Norway’s Minister of Justice in 1996-1997. She always wanted to write a crime novel and had the title ‘Blind gudinne’ even before she had the story. The Blind Goddess was written in 1993 and has taken a mere 19 years to reach an English readership. Amazingly the eighth book in the series 1222 was published before this, the first, even though The Blind Goddess was a best seller in Norway back in 1993. 

If we are getting the back list of new to English readers Scandinavian crime writers as part of the Stieg Larsson effect that is fine with me; especially if they are all as good as The Blind Goddess. Unfortunately the Larsson effect resulted in the reader receiving the incorrect information on the back cover repeated in at least one review that a “shady criminal lawyer called Hansa Larsen is murdered”. The name of the murder victim is Hans E. Olsen, but actually reading the books you review, as opposed to skimming them,  always makes you susceptible to pedantry. 

A dead drug dealer is found horribly murdered by Karen Borg, a corporate lawyer, out on her early morning run. The victims face is missing, and it is not long before the perpetrator is found.

‘There’s a man sitting in the road on Bogstadaveien. We can’t get anything out of him, his clothes are covered in blood, but he doesn’t look injured.”

The young man won’t say much, but when he asks for a drink it is clear he is not a Norwegian. Soon he surprisingly asks for Karen Borg to represent him. Police lawyer Hakan Sand and Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen begin a painstaking investigation and a trying journey through Norway’s legal system. Criminal lawyer Hans E. Olsen is shot and killed and the possibility arises of the two cases being linked.  Peter Strup, a smart, smooth more experienced criminal lawyer surprisingly offers to take the now identified Dutchman’s case away from Karen. And the reader learns before the police a little information about just how far the leaders of  the drug trafficking ring are prepared to go, and that high flyers are deeply involved in the corruption. 

The story moves on past a few more bodies,  interesting court appearances and forays with the drug squad on to an exciting finish.

The Blind Goddess is a well constructed police procedural moving from one character’s perspective to another with ease. I don’t think the plot mixing the upper echelons of power and the grubby pathetic world of the drug dealers is as important as the characters. Isn’t that true of many fine crime fiction series? But that said the plot grips the reader as the police struggle with a system that gives the benefit of the doubt and more to the guilty.

There are nice cameo portraits of some minor characters, the woman Police Commissioner, a down at heel journalist, a drug squad policeman Billy T, and the corrupt lawyers, but it is Karen Borg, Hakan Sand, and Hanne Wilhelmsen who are at the heart of the story.

Lawyer Karen Borg has feelings for Hakan Sand, they were students together, although she is now in a relationship with Nils, who could make gourmet meals out of sachets of soup, while she ruined good steak .

Hard work and an incisive mind were greatly esteemed at Greverud & Co. She was only the fourth woman to have the opportunity, and the first to succeed. When she passed her exams a year later, she was offered a permanent position, interesting clients, and an immoral salary. She fell for the temptation.

The question is will Karen and the shy pessimistic Hakan ever get it together on a permanent basis. 

Of course, it might be the difference between an active police officer [Hanne Wilhelmsen] and an official of the Prosecution Service. There were many avenues of retreat for him; he could find another job art any time. Assistant secretary in the Department of Fisheries,  for instance.

Author Anne Holt is an “out”  lesbian in a relationship, so perhaps it is not surprising that she makes her leading protagonist Hanne Wilhelmsen, a lesbian. She is a brilliant detective who….had the intuition that only one in a hundred police officers has, the fingertip sensitivity that tells you when to coax and trick a suspect, and when to threaten and thump the table.

Hanne has managed the difficult task of keeping a wall between her professional and personal life. 

Hanne Wilhelmsen was at ease with herself and the world……..

There were rumours, as there always are. But she was so pretty. So womanly. And the female doctor that a friend of someone’s friend vaguely knew, that others had seen Hanne with several times, was very beautiful. They were really feminine women. So there couldn’t be any truth in it.

I had to remind myself that this was written nearly twenty years ago when most police forces were probably still bastions of male chauvinism. I also wondered if this series hadn’t made it into English because of the sexuality of the detective, but I thought it was more likely that publishers were put off by blurbs such as:

‘Like a mash-up of Stieg Larsson, Jeffrey Deaver and Agatha Christie’- Daily Mirror on 1222

The Blind Goddess is certainly no mash-up, it is a good police procedural, a well plotted, and well written book full of interesting characters, and I will be looking out for number two, Blessed Are Those That Trust, which will be published later in the year.