Anne Holt is a Norwegian crime novelist whose previous occupations include stints as a journalist, as a policewoman, and (briefly, before her resignation for health reasons) as Norway’s Minister of Justice. She’s written numerous books, more than a dozen of which have been translated into English.
(The) Blind Goddess (Blind Gudinne, 1993, translated by Tom Geddes)—the definite article in the title appears optional, and my edition doesn’t have it—is Holt’s first novel, and the first in her long-running ‘Hanne Wilhelmsen’ series, following the exploits of a lesbian police officer within the Oslo police force. This first book, though, seems not so much Wilhelmsen’s as it does Håkon Sand’s. Sand, a police attorney who provides the link between Karen Borg, the corporate lawyer who stumbles upon the brutally-mutilated body of drug dealer Ludvig Sandersen on a riverbank, and Hanne, the detective responsible for investigating Sandersen’s death alongside that of shady criminal lawyer Hans Olsen in a mafia-style hit a few days later. Karen Borg’s involvement in the case is not just as a witness—she’s hired as the defence attorney for Sandersen’s confessed killer, though she has no experience in the practice of criminal law—and Håkon Sand’s involvement becomes entangled with the romantic attachment that has developed between him and Borg. There’s little to go on in building a case, and the police’s efforts appear thwarted due to the interventions of celebrated defence lawyer Peter Straub, who seems determined to play a spoiling role. A connection is eventually discovered between Sandersen and Olsen, but the police are convinced the two victims are merely part of a substantially larger, and quite sophisticated, drugs ring that remains at large.
The attention to detail in Holt’s evocation of the various policing, legal, and journalistic considerations is impressive, and doubtless owes something to her own personal experience in those areas. The crime, too, is very well-constructed, and the interpersonal interactions between Borg, Sand, and Wilhelmsen, as well as between Wilhelmsen and her partner Cecilie, are plausible and robustly drawn. There is, though, rather too much head-hopping for my liking—Holt’s perspective veers very close to eye-of-God in some places—and I didn’t feel completely convinced by the characters’ expressed body language. It also seemed to me that some of the characters—Håkon Sand prime among them, but with plenty of company—appeared rather too clumsy or bumbling for their own good. (Of course, perfect characters are very boring, but I think this first novel of Holt’s overdoes the imperfections to a degree.) That said, the mystery did keep me hooked, and Holt also managed some highly effective misdirection as the tale played out.