Anne Holt, Johanne Vik/Adam Stubø series ASIN: Modus BBC 4 and DVD (PAL, Swedish with English subtitles) adaptation of Vik/Stubo 4, Fear Not
Now that we reach publication of the last book in the Johanne Vik/Adam Stubø series, I can reiterate some of the reservations I expressed about Anne Holt last November, especially her stereotyped plots and casual endings. This series has three autistic/asperger characters: Johanne’s daughter (whom we don’t see), a young policeman who is suddenly on his own in the local nick, and the boy who has just died in a household accident. The cop—only just past his student status—finds himself dealing with the couple, because this is the July weekend in 2011 when Anders Breivick murdered scores of young people at a political summer camp and more in the centre of Oslo. This means that Adam is largely absent dealing with the horrors on Utøya island and its aftermath with 69 dead children and their grieving families. Johanne is involved in the case because she went to school with the parents of this dead boy and is also known to the grandparents.
So we have one not-yet-competent young cop (dealing with psychological problems of his own), no crime scene or forensic specialists, one criminologist with no formal right to be investigating the accident, and—quite soon—one desk-bound Inspector going through the roof at the less that normal procedures followed (or rather not) by the unfortunate neophyte cop who is—through no fault of his own—on his own. There are about half a dozen back stories: Johanne and the two parents; Johanne worried about Adam discovering that she’s pregnant at 45; Jon and Ellen, the two parents together and individually (it is important that there is inherited as well as new wealth); Joachim, Jon’s right-hand man at his business (which may be facing an investigation of insider trading), who has become the dead boy’s best friend, and the grandmothers. It seems to me likely that anyone who reads the papers will know enough about child abuse, including parental patterns, to make a good guess about how the boy died and who did it. The attempt to make the charming Joachim—the cliché of poor boy makes good, not from a privileged background and prone to make small class-revealing mistakes—a distraction strikes me as a late and lazy ‘put the blame on the self-made lower class boy’. It is, however, the melodramatic ending which strikes me as a remarkable stroke of ‘kill your darlings’ by an author who’s tired of them, but much more tired of the ways we manage not to see and not to interfere with what goes on in apparently happy homes.
Many Crimetime readers will have watched (however briefly) Modus, a cherry-picking, Swedish, omnibus adaptation which moves the Norwegian scene to Sweden. As clichés go, it is a humdinger, from the disturbed killer and his ‘church’ of crazies back in America for whom he appears to be on a mission. I hope Holt was well paid for this travesty of her work, which wrecks its gender balance and right-minded social concern. Above all, though, the ‘sect’ strand is parodic: the parishioners (cue strong southern accents) are all ugly and badly dressed and coiffed, the ‘pastor’ looks like ‘Duke’, the villain in Doonesbury, and the killer is Enigmatic with a capital K. So it’s fine to respect gays, but it’s open season on America’s evangelical homophobes, especially when they locate the source of all evil in Sweden. It looks to me as if some right-minded director tried to plant a sensible idea here and there, but mostly it’s insulting in its carelessness. One newspaper review suggested that it was no more daft than many other Scandinavian series, but, really, it is, with it villain imitating a cyborg throughout. Right at the end appears a new character, a young street-woman, who is (not that anyone seems to notice) an utterly brilliant portrait artist whose total recall and painterly skill finally give the police a picture of the killer. The final fisticuffs are off any scale of preposterous self-defence by a heroine. What looked like it was going to be an exploration of gender prejudice turns out to be a contract killing. For shame.