Holt, Anne - 'Fear Not' (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
The guard stared at the body he was desperately trying to haul out of the water. He had a good grip on the collar, but the body inside the clothes was lifeless and as heavy as lead in the water, with the hood pulled up and fastened.
A Saturday night before Christmas and the party season is in full swing in Oslo. Nobody notices the young girl in a nightdress, barefoot in the middle of the street, singing a song to herself and standing in the path of an oncoming tram. But the mother does see her and screams out her name as the tram brakes squeal. As if out of nowhere, a man sweeps the girl out of the path of the tram. The mother grabs her daughter from him, holding her tight as - without thinking - she slaps the stranger's face. The mother's name is Johanne Vik, a police profiler and researcher. She knows that her daughter Kristiane is special, not exactly autistic but... And the whole idea of staying at the hotel after her sister's wedding reception, when they lived only ten minutes away, was stupid. Stupid. Elsewhere in the city, down by the quayside, the body of a young Kurdish asylum seeker is hauled onto dry land. It has been in the water quite some time and it was no accidental death. Some days later, on Christmas Eve, with the home of Johanne and her husband, police investigator Adam Stubo, fraught with all the tensions that a family Christmas can bring, the phone rings at one o'clock in the morning. It is a call for Adam. The Bishop of Bergen has been murdered, stabbed to death as she was walking home that evening. Adam is called in to investigate, a delicate matter that also means he must base himself in Bergen for a while. Johanne is used to this. It is all part of Adam's job with the National Criminal Investigation Service. Nevertheless the next day, as she stares out of the window at both of her daughters playing in the garden, Johanne can't help suspecting that someone is watching her daughter Kristiane.
FEAR NOT is the fourth in Anne Holt's crime series featuring husband and wife team Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik, and follows their investigations into several apparently unconnected deaths that occur during Christmas week in Oslo and Bergen. Johanne is working on a project for the Norwegian Police to do with hate-crime and after a while she begins to suspect that these apparently unconnected deaths share a motive. It took me some time to become familiar with the characters, positioned as they were as separate elements within the story, but the narrative and suspense draws together successfully. FEAR NOT is my idea of classic Scandinavian crime-fiction, rooted in social observation, and I loved it. As Holt said in a Guardian interview concerning Scandinavian crime fiction: "We don't write whodunnit books, but why did it happen [books]". With a pair of investigators who live lives aside from crime-busting; a solid, well-constructed mix of plot, mystery, character and coincidence that drives the whole thing along; a dark edge and of course - blood on the snow - we have the perfect Scandinavian crime story. In FEAR NOT Holt examines a threat greater than that of individual crime - the workings of organised hate-crime based on politico-religious beliefs. Anne Holt's background gives her a prime footing for writing such crime fiction: working for the Oslo Police, founding her own law firm, and serving as Minister for Justice between 1996-97. In another interview shortly after the shocking killings committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, Holt referred to her book FEAR NOT as a book, although written two years before the Oslo bombing and the Utoya killings, in which she tried to explore "exactly the same issue as we now have to face, the line or the connection between spoken hatred and physical hatred. I really tried in that book to point to the fact that freedom of speech is also a question about responsibility for what we say and how we act".
FEAR NOT is a "what if" book that highlights the possibility of organised hate-crime, provides discussion of how such a thing can arise, and paints a picture of its effects and consequences with detail and humanity. It has an excellent English translation by experienced translator Marlaine Delargy, and if you are looking for comparisons, I would happily place it alongside books by Mankell, Marklund, Fossum, and Indridason as top Scandinavian crime-reads. I certainly hope to backtrack and read more books by Holt.
Read another review of FEAR NOT.
Lynn Harvey, England