More quality Scandi noir

I think I've just discovered my new favourite Scandinavian Noir writer, the Norwegian crime writer, and former Minister of Justice, Anne Holt.

Anne Holt came to my attention accidentally. BBC Four has recently been showing a Swedish TV adaptation of one of her later novels, Modus (originally published as Fear Not (Pengemannen))). I thoroughly enjoyed the series and then realised that I had an Anne Holt sitting on my To Be Read shelf - a cheap book buy from a garden centre.

Blind goddess (Blind gudinne) is the first in her series of novels about Norwegian detective, Hanne Wilhelmsen. The novel opens with a brutal murder in Oslo of a drug dealer and the discovery of a young man covered in blood who quickly becomes the chief and only suspect. By chance he ends up being defended by Karen Borg, who had originally found the body, and whose legal career is normally far removed from the dirty world of criminal advocacy.

Karen is also an old university friend, and lost love, of Hakon Sand, who (in an American crime novel) would be working for the DA's office. As Sand and Wilhelmsen investigate the crime they quickly realise that the crime is rooted deep in the highest levels of Norwegian society. Who can they trust? And how are they going to bring the guilty to justice?

There was so much that was good about this novel. Great characterisation especially of the good guys - Sand, Wilhelmsen and Borg all stood out.

The Blind Goddess of Justice
Wilhelmsen is also, unusually, for heroes of crime stories, a lesbian. She's a really well-developed character, and the LGBT angle is well thought out. Completely coincidentally I was discussing the problems of portraying gay people on TV a few weeks ago with a lesbian friend. She said that it often made her cringe, as there were certain stereotypes - whether it was phrases, gestures, or assumptions - that made it immediately obvious to her that the person doing the writing behind the character was not gay themselves. Anne Holt is gay, and I'm sure that it's because of this that Hanne comes over as a fully formed person with none of the stereotypes that can so often come over as awkward in writing (see, for example, my caveat in the review of Donna Leon's Falling in love).  Hanne's sexuality is an advantage in this novel, as Holt is able to present her both as a person who's slightly on the margins of society - she lives with her partner, but is not "out" to her colleagues - but also as someone whose life is also very ordinary. In other words she's just your everyday person who happens to be a cop. I loved Hanne, she was great - trusty, clever, and dogged.

Hakon Sand was also very likeable, with many of the same attributes as Hanne; and the love story between him and Karen is rather endearing. (There's also a dog in the story - always a bonus for dog fans). The story was well constructed with some very clever red herrings being thrown across the reader's path. A thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read, that gets to the dark heart of Nordic society. I look forward to reading much more in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.


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