Review: Fear Not by Anne Holt

We all have our secret rooms.  That’s the way it should be.  That’s the way it will always be.

The snow-covered streets of Oslo are the very picture of Christmas tranquility.  But over the tolling bells for Christmas Day, a black note sounds.  As first light breaks, Bishop Eva Karin Lysgaard is found stabbed to death in the quiet city centre.

DI Adam Stubo heads up the police investigation, but it is Johanne Vik, criminal profiler, who infers and unlikely pattern from this shocking murder, and who suspects that a bitter and untempered hatred has been unleashed upon the city of Oslo.  A hatred that is not yet satisfied…

I picked up Fear Not from the ‘Scandi-Crime’ stand in my local chain bookshop on a whim, having previously read 1222, the last in Holt’s other series, about a female police officer, which I’d really enjoyed – it’s a great example of a locked-room murder mystery in a snowy setting.  Again, my it’s-not-the-first-in-the-series curse struck again.  This is in fact ‘Vik and Stubo #4’, according to Goodreads.  Never mind, I thought, I might as well give it a try.

In fact, I didn’t feel I’d missed out on previous installments when I began to read.  The characters of Vik and Stubo were drawn so clearly that I felt I was the beginning, even though they’d had three prior outings. I think one of Holt’s strengths is her details characterisation; Johanne was so well described as to seem completely rounded and believable, as a profiler, as a mother, and a woman.  Adam also seemed totally real, doing his best under difficult circumstances, and I really enjoyed the way their relationship developed during the narrative, with all the tensions of modern family life as well as working to solve crimes.

I thought Holt picked up on an interesting idea in this book too; rather than a traditional revenge or money motivation, there’s a strong theme of religious extremism leading to victimisation of minorities, in this case Norway’s gay and lesbian community.  It was an interesting conceit to explore whether liberalisation can in fact prompt extremism, and of course Holt has more insight into this than most, given her time in the Norwegian government.

Despite my enjoyment of the journey with Fear Not’s main characters, the novel didn’t grab me in the way that 1222 did.  The plotting is not as tight, and key clues and revelations were a very long time coming, compared to a lot of cold crime.  Vik and Stubo, while very real, are far less gritty than Nesbo’s Harry Hole, less charismatic than Mankell’s Wallander and less dramatic than Falck and Hedstrom in Camilla Lackberg’s Fjallbacka series.  Perhaps, despite my liking for them, they’re a bit too real! I found myself longing for something a little more gruesome, or a little more fast-paced, with a little more mystery and tension.

I wouldn’t say than Fear Not has put me off going back to book one of the series, but I think perhaps I won’t be trying it any time soon.  I’ve got a Mankell on the shelf that’s calling my name, and I don’t think I’ll be able to resist for long.

Fear Not is published by Corvus, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Kate Neilan