Book review: Punishment, by Anne Holt

13 12 2017

There are a fairly large number of crime fiction writers who have previously served with the police, and a fair few also who have for a time been lawyers. But there cannot be that many who have also acted as their country’s Minister of Justice. Anne Holt is a long-established Norwegian crime novelist whose backstory does indeed include those exploits. She’s probably best known as the author of the ‘Hanne Wilhemsen’ series of police procedurals, the first two instalments of which—Blind Goddess and Blessed Are Those Who Thirst—I’ve reviewed previously.

Punishment

Punishment (Det som mitt, 2001, translated by Kari Dickson) is the first novel in Holt’s second sequence, bringing together senior detective Adam Stubo and criminology researcher Johanne Vik. Vik is informally seeking to illuminate an apparent historical miscarriage of justice, with an innocent man (Aksel Seier) serving nine years in jail, from 1956 to 1965, for the rape and murder of a child before his release and subsequent emigration to the US. Stubo has much more immediate concerns: within the span of a week, two children, nine-year-old Emilie and four-year-old Kim, have been brazenly abducted. There’s no apparent connection between Emilie’s and Kim’s families, no ransom demands, no reliable witness statements, and in desperation Stubo asks for help from a researcher he’s seen interviewed on TV (Vik). She’s unwilling to immerse herself in the case, but when Kim turns up dead shortly before an eight-year-old goes missing, she finds herself drawn into the investigation.

I’m not sure whether it’s the series’ setup or the fact that, by the time Punishment came out, Holt already had a half-dozen Hanne Wilhelmsen procedurals under her belt (and had therefore, one presumes, developed significantly as a writer), but I found this distinctly more rewarding than the Wilhelmsen novels I’ve read to date (which are, admittedly, only the first two). The pace is well-tempered, the polite though sometimes flinty working relationship between Stubo and Vik is delicately drawn, the abductor’s means of execution is fiendishly ingenious. There are a lot of moving parts here, all played expertly and without sliding into excess. All of this bodes well for the further works in the sequence.

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