Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

translated by Tom Geddes


published 1993







[Norway: Police investigator Hanne Wilhelmson has gone out to meet lawyer Karen Borg at a cabin out in the middle of nowhere]

She had no difficulty finding her way. There was an inviting glow from the windows, in welcoming contrast to the desolate shuttered cottages nearby. She hardly recognised her. Karen Borg was dressed in a shabby old tracksuit which made Hanne smile when she saw it. It was blue, with white shoulder inserts that met in a vee on the chest. She’d had one very similar herself as a child; it had served as playsuit, tracksuit, and even pyjamas before it finally wore out and proved impossible to replace. On her feet Karen had a pair of threadbare woollen slippers with holes in both heels. Her hair was uncombed and she wore no makeup. The smart, well-dressed lawyer had gone to ground , and Hanne had to stop herself scanning the room in search of her. “Sorry about my clothes,” said Karen with a smile, “but part of the freedom of being here is looking like this.”




observations: A few years ago Anne Holt’s book 1222 was published in the UK and got a fair amount of attention – I must have been one of many people who bought it (on special offer IIRC) and read it and realized quite quickly that this was well into a whole series of books – and that the main sleuth, Hanne Wilhelmsen, had a considerable backstory.

I’ve finally got around to reading the first book, and it’s very different from 1222 – which was actually the 8th in the series.

This is a police procedural set in and around Oslo, and is very much of its time – 1993. No mobile phones in general use, no quick looking-up on the computer. A report goes missing, and that’s it – there are no copies, it wasn’t written on a computer, there’s no file, no backup. The plot concerns a drugs ring which may reach into the most respectable legal circles.

Quite early on, lawyer Karen Borg, unused to criminal cases, is talking to her client:
[Her experience] was entirely limited to having yelled after a bicycle thief who was making off down Markveien with her new fifteen-gear bike. But— she had seen this on TV. Defence Counsel Matlock had said: “I don’t want to know the truth, I want to know what you’re going to say in court.” Somehow it didn’t sound quite as convincing coming from her own lips. More hesitant, perhaps. But it might be a way of eliciting something.
I thought this was hilarious, and was hoping for a similar tone throughout the book, but in fact I found it rather humourless and flat – though I did enjoy the odd detail, such as the meal the two women above are about to enjoy:
The food wasn’t very sophisticated: canned reindeer-meatballs in gravy with potatoes and a cucumber salad. The cucumber didn’t go with it, Hanne thought to herself, but it filled her up.
In general I much preferred the odd tone (and first person narrative) of 1222, which was an unusual book, and one that kept you guessing. Not so much with this one – but I should say that plenty of crime fiction bloggers very much liked the earlier books in the series. I am not nearly so widely-read in the area of scandi-crime-fiction, and so this is probably a case where personal taste is even more important than usual – I wouldn’t want to put anyone off the book.

The picture is from the Norwegian National Archives: there’s no date, but perhaps for its day the outfit was the equivalent of a shabby tracksuit…. And there's the reindeer ready to be turned into meatballs. 

20 comments:

  1. Moira - I think it's fascinating how an author's style may change over the course of a series. Whether that happens naturally or an editor/publisher prompts it or it's the author's choice, it's interesting. I like the Holt series but like you, I think it's gotten better over time.

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    1. It's interesting isn't it? Some authors change a lot - I personally think Reginald Hill did - and others less so. And we all have our favourite eras in a writer's list of works.

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  2. I think I picked up 1222 recently (last year or so) - doing my thing to address the massive gender imbalance in my reading. I'll see how that goes before rewinding on her or not.

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    1. I found 1222 and this one very different, but I actually think you might like either of them. So give her a go when 1222 rises to the top....

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  3. Moira, if I decide to read anything by Anne Holt I think I'd aim for "1222." I'm intrigued by the title.

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    1. Yes, I'd agree with you Prashant, it is a most interesting book.

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  4. So annoying not publishing the series in order in English in order. Why, why why? (And, I'm wondering what's in IKEA meatballs in Norway stores now...? It was horse in a few places elsewhere, wasn't it?!)

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    1. Yes, why do they? If they lure people in with the later one (as they did me) then they might not like the 1st one after all. And, I'll never look at IKEA meatballs the same way now....

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    2. I am partial to an IKEA meatball and TBH I would eat it irrespective of origin.....made me feel hungry now!

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    3. All food descriptions make you hungry when you're waiting for lunch...

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  5. I liked 1222 better than the first few books in the series, too. This reminds me to read the next one, which has been sitting on my TBR stack for months.

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    1. I don't know where to go next with this series: I definitely liked the later one better.

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  6. I haven't read either this book or 1222. I think I have this one on the Kindle. I have often found Scandinavian crime fiction books flat compared to the ones I usually read, but have enjoyed them for a view of a different place and life, and possibly even because most I have read were published in the 1990's. I liked crime fiction better before computers. I refuse to read 1222 first, so who knows when or if I will get there.

    When Scandinavian crime fiction was first popular I planned to read a lot and bought a good bit, but I haven't followed up on a lot of them. So I am way behind on any of the series.

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    1. I feel rather as you do Tracy - scandi crime is enjoyed by so many people whose blogs I like and whose reading I admire, that I keep thinking I've missed something. I have read a few, and quite liked them, but not enough to keep on with the various series.
      I think 1222 might actually have been free at some point, and that's why I got it.

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  7. Some Nordic mysteries are good, some aren't. I had read many of them, and then stopped, although I keep a few authors in my scope and will read their books, such as Liza Marklund and Helene Tursten. And, of course, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's series of 10. And I do like Anne Holt's books, too.

    I just somehow lost the motivation, but if I read a rave review, I'll check out a book if the library has it. Too much to read to be buying books, unless something is exceptional.

    There are a number of Scandi authors I still want to try, but will see what the library has. But then again I'm trying to tackle the book stacks and my impossible TBR list.

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    1. I have read fewer of them than you, I think, but I feel rather as you do. It needs to be a special book, with a known author or very good reviews to get me looking.

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  8. I should have added Asa Larsson and Icelandic author, Yrsa Siggurdadottir are also favorite writers. Then there are the Danish writers, Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis who write the Nina Borg series, which is very interesting, with a flawed protagonist.

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    1. I read this first Nina Borg but didn't pursue. It did totally give me the creeps when I was at the left luggage dept at Copenhagen station!

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  9. Ooh! I worry about anyone with children reading The Boy in the Suitcase. A friend didn't want her daughter (a new mother) to read it.
    Invisible Murder is good.

    I also forgot a favorite, Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason. I like several of his books, including two that deal with crimes against women: Silence of the Grave and Outrage. Thought he did quite well on these.

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