Review: Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

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Blessed Are ThoseBlessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt (Scribner, 2012)

Blurb:  It is only the beginning of May but in Oslo a brutal heat wave has coincided with an alarming increase in violent crime. In the latest instance, police investigator Hanne Wilhelmsen is sent to a macabre crime scene on the outskirts of town. An abandoned shed is covered in blood. On one wall an eight-digit number is written in blood. There is no body—nor any sign of a victim. Is it a kid’s prank or foul play? Is it even human blood?

As more bloody numbers are found in isolated locations throughout Oslo, Hanne’s colleague Håkon Sand makes a startling discovery: the digits correspond to the filing numbers of foreign immigrants. All are female, all are missing. Is there a serial killer on the loose in Oslo? How does the killer have access to immigrant data?

Meanwhile, as the trail heats up, the victim of a horrific unsolved rape case and her father have each decided to take justice into their own hands. Hanne and Håkon soon discover that they aren’t the only ones on the hunt for the killer.

 

Although the translation is fairly new, the book is not; it was first published in Norway in 1994. I point that out not because the book seems dated but because it does not—the theme of immigration and its impact on Nordic society runs through Nordic crime fiction, and it’s especially interesting for me as an American to see this kind of commentary on the impact of generous refugee policies on a previously homogeneous, liberal society.

Oslo is experiencing both a heat wave and a crime wave—although strictly speaking, though the police are investigating multiple blood-drenched crime scenes, without any bodies, they have no corresponding crimes to investigate.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is exhausted. With so many violent crimes to investigate, she’s working too much, and although she relaxes by taking long rides on her rose-colored Harley-Davidson, the strain of keeping her fifteen-year lesbian relationship a secret is draining her. Her colleague, Håkan Sand, has a similar balancing act; he must keep secret his ongoing affair with Karen Borg, his married colleague. Kristine Håverstad is the latest rape victim. Assaulted in her own apartment, she retreats to her childhood home in her father’s house, where he and she silently—and independently—plot revenge against her attacker, whose identity they manage to uncover at the same time as the police.

At only 211 pages, the book is short and fast-paced. Holt provides some insight into Wilhelmsen and Sand, but where this book shines is its depictions of the victims: Kristine Håverstad, crippled by shame and hopelessness; Finn Håverstad, driven by tremendous guilt and helplessness; and the Iranian asylum seeker who lives in the apartment beneath Kristine’s and whose fate is in the hands of the Norwegian bureaucracy. Holt is able to maintain a sense of tension and unease right up until the very last page.

 

My rating: 4 stars

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