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

Review: Some Kind of Peace, by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff

Siri Bergman is terrified of the dark.
She lives alone, an hour outside Stockholm where she practices as a psychotherapist, her nearest neighbour far away. Siri tells her friends that she has moved on since her husband died in a diving accident. But when she goes to bed at night, she leaves all the lights on, unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching her.
With the light gone, the darkness creeps inside.
One night she wakes to find that the house is pitch black, and the torch by her bedside has vanished. Later, the body of one of her young patients is found floating in the water nearby. Thrown headlong into a tense murder investigation, Siri finds herself unable to trust anyone, not even her closest friends. Who can she turn to for answers?
The truth is hidden in the darkness.

Some Kind of Peace is the debut offering from Swedish pair Camilla Grebe, an audiobook entrepreneur, and Asa Traff, a psychologist specialising in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), and is translated by Paul Norlen. From the first sentence, I found myself immersed in the world of the Swedish countryside – the description of the landscape, and the summer, around Siri’s cottage was beautiful and very intricate, and I was immediately drawn in, wondering what could go wrong in this idyllic setting.

Of course, I know exactly the sort of things that could go wrong. I’m a big fan of Scandinavian crime writing. My first experience was the Martin Beck series, by Sjowall and Wahloo, then I worked my way through the works of Mankell, Nesbo, Holt and Lackberg. As a result, I know only too well that the pastoral scenes of Sweden and Norway can hide the most appalling, bloody and baffling crimes. Luckily, these countries seem replete with dogged, imperfect but determined policemen and women, who can’t rest easy until they have caught the perpetrator.

However, Some Kind of Peace presents the reader with something a little different in Siri Bergman. Siri is a psychotherapist, not an investigator. She is a victim, not only of intimidation, stalking, threats, but also of her own damaged psyche. She cannot understand why anyone might want to hurt her in this way, does not want to be a burden to her friends and family by talking about what has happened, doubts her own perception, wondering if she has imagined the whole thing… She is by no means a reliable narrator, making the novel tens and mysterious.

Siri is accompanied by an array of friends trying to help discover who is out to get her: her friend and colleague, Aina, Marcus, the very friendly policeman, Vijay their university contact who specialises in criminal profiling. She’s also surrounded by her patients, who display more or less disturbing thoughts and behaviours, and her lecherous practice-mate Sven. As the plot thickens, Siri starts to wonder who she can trust – who really does have her best interests at heart? And her own insecurities multiply too, as she dwells on her husband’s death. Was it an accident? Siri is forced to reevaluate, and gradually loses control over her life.

I found Some Kind of Peace a really fascinating read, with great insights into the psychology of the criminal mind, as opposed to the traditional police procedural a la Beck or Wallander or rogue-cop of the Harry Hole books. I also found the characters extremely well-drawn, particularly Siri herself. Finally, I found the prose style highly engaging; this is not always the case with books in translation, but I think Paul Norlen has done a very good job expressing the finesse and intricacy of the original. This book has already been a great success in Sweden and I hope it makes a big splash here very soon.

Some Kind of Peace is published by Simon & Schuster

Kate Neilan @Magic_kitten