Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
Scandanavian crime fiction is really hot at the moment both onscreen and in books so it was interesting to return to an earlier incarnation in the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen mysteries.
Jo Nesbo name checks the author of The Blind Goddess, on its cover as, the grandmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction and I could see why. Published in 1993 before the Nordic School became such a phenomenon, it introduces us to an alternative to rain slicked, inner city streets in the bustling cityscape of Oslo and the beaches where everyone seems to have a summer house. I am a huge fan of Scandinavian crime, both written and televised, and enjoy their embracing of the truly dysfunctional as in the female detectives of'The Bridge' and ‘The Killing’ and Wallander’s beloved flat empty Nordic bleached landscapes.
The Blind Goddess begins with Karen Borg, a very successful commercial lawyer in Oslo, finding a faceless dead body while out walking her dog. She is shocked and sickened and, after vomiting on the corpse, runs off to report it. She has no idea that her discovery will enmesh her in a crime case which will soon spiral out of her control. Karen is now a witness by finding the body and events begin to gather pace when a man is found, covered in blood, and brought into Oslo’s central police station. He demands that she, and only she, becomes his lawyer despite having no experience in this area. A small time drug dealer and trafficker, Hanvan der Kerch reveals to Karen what he knows about a drugs ring operating in Oslo which involves several anonymous lawyers and other dealers. Unwittingly, and purely by chance, Karen is now seen as knowing more than she should and there are members of the drug ring who will kill her to find out the extent of her supposed knowledge. Things become even more complicated as Hanne Wilhelmsen, the Inspector, becomes involved and Hakon Sand, an old friend of Karen's whose life trajectory pottered along as hers went into a glittering orbit, finally declares his feelings for her.
Meanwhile, Hanne, supposedly working alone in the police station one Sunday is viciously attacked by an assailant trying to gain access to Karen’s statement and Han van der Kerch discovers to his cost that Oslo's custody cells can be easily penetrated by someone determined to ensure his silence. A small, fluttering piece of paper falling through the bars of his cell contains a stark warning and Kersh is lost. After a search of a dead addict’s flat, Hanne and Billy T’s team find a book code which she feels is connected to the case. But where are the books the code uses? Meanwhile apparently respectable lawyers are either turning up dead, demanding to take over the case or covering their tracks. Karen is in greater danger than she knows as she’s a problem that has to be eliminated but can Hanne break the code and smash through the closed ranks of Oslo's lawyers and find the villains?
After reading Jo Nesbo's bloody and dramatic Harry Hole series I found The Blind Goddess to be quite restrained in comparison and, although well plotted and with a good, brisk pace, I found that it didn't hold my attention as much as it might have done. Maybe I’ve been reading too many gruesome chillers. I was surprised to find out that Hanne was actually meant to be the lead character as I felt in this book that it was meant to be Karen Borg.
However, I felt that Hanne, ostensibly a career policewoman who was secretly gay, had hidden depths and will definitely read another one in the series. She doesn't seem to have any bad habits or a love affair with addiction but of course this is only the first one in the series so there's still time for her to develop these. I was unconvinced by Karen’s acceptance of Hakon’s sudden declaration of love for her after years of unrequited love even though her partner, Nils, seemed to be a vague character.
However, I enjoyed Holt’s handling of the events building to the climax of Karen’s life in the balance. As the book was written in 1993, there was a strange emphasis on most characters smoking. There were several mentions of what brand they smoked and that they always seemed to be reaching for an ashtray. The latter are now almost a vanished species which makes the book seem out of date. Most detectives, male and female, seem to have a drinking habit and so one addiction is replaced by another.
This book was an interesting and entertaining introduction to Hanne and her world and I would like to see what happens to Hanne when she’s really tested. Unlike most detectives, she’s respected, knows how to negotiate the promotion ladder without appearing to grovel and has a double life that none of her colleagues know about. I wondered what her breaking point would be and will certainly read another one in the series to find out.
With regard to the book’s title, any serious crime fan will already have guessed the identity of the Goddess.