Anne Holt, Beyond the Truth (Sannheten bortenfor), t. Anne Bruce, Scribner 2016 [2003] ISBN-13: 978-0857892317

Anne Holt, What Dark Clouds Hide (Skyggedød), t. Anne Bruce, Scribner 2016 [2012] Inger Johanne Vik series

Let me begin with some reflections about translation and the importance of prizes. As is so often the case, publishers seem to read crystal balls or tarot cards when they decide an author’s chance to be translated into English has come.

And sometimes they grab the one that has just won a prize. By 2012, when 1222 was shortlisted three times (Edgar, Shamus, Macavity) and won a prize (in Poland), Holt had not won one in a decade. Nothing unusual here: just years can pass before all the books in a series are translated, including Roslund and Holmstrom (one of whose books was recently reissued with a new title in sync with the use of numbers to resemble other books in their series), Dominique Manotti, and Fred Vargas. And some writers are not translated until they’re dead, at which point much depends upon the contracts they had with their publishers or simply upon their estate. Certainly the quality of Anne Holt’s work varies considerably—but she has always had demanding day jobs. She and Manotti have both written with other authors.

It may take some digging in a variety of lists (not least including the author’s website) to discover that this latest book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, no. 7 in order, was first published in 2003. In 2017 she also publishes, for the first time in English, What Dark Clouds Hide, from another series, There are some gains in reading titles out of order, but the risks are considerable, because they entail spoilers, as references appear to earlier books. The sudden success (in English) of 1222 (no. 8) came five years after its appearance in Norwegian (2007). Her Dead Joker (translated 2015) appeared six years after its first appearance (1999).

Hanne Wilhelmsen is a damaged Chief Inspector in Oslo; her previous long-term partner is dead, but she has found another woman to take care of her. Think Catherine Cawood in ‘Happy Valley’, and that should cover some of Hanne’s flaws, too, except that she is almost sociopathic, at least as far as her work and home life are concerned. I think that about covers it. As brilliant maverick intuitive cops go, Hanne is of higher rank, but lower human virtues. In Beyond the Truth, there is a bizarre multiple murder of four people, three of the same family and one from another area of life altogether. We see inside a number of the people involved in the family, some of who make Hanne look sane and composed. As usual, finding the motive in order to find the killer distances Hanne from the rest of her squad and makes life difficult for everyone around her. As too often in Holt’s work, the ending is scrabbled together, distancing her readers as much as Hanne does her colleagues. The book’s title makes sense once one has listened to her, and observed what might be described as her methodology. My reservations about Holt have to do with her being satisfied with drafts that have lots of good things in them, but not being willing to revise that last time, that one last push that turns in-the-genre stereotypes into something more powerful, and better.

Then, somewhere along the line, a now-familiar powerful force intervened: Holt’s Vik/Stubo series, renamed ‘Modus’, was sold to television, with its promise of taughter writing, starting with no. 4, Fear Not. No. 5, Where Dark Clouds Hide, is no. 5. Since it is not published in the UK until January, I shall only give notice here that it will be reviewed soon. In the meantime, the preceding books are Punishment, The Final Murder, and Death in Oslo. US publication uses different titles.

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