Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series has gotten a great deal of critical and popular praise. And it’s a solid example of a Scandinavian police procedural series. It’s about time one of the novels appeared in this feature, so let’s do that today, and turn the spotlight on The Blind Goddess, the first of the Hanne Wilhelmsen novels.
As the novel begins, Oslo attorney Karen Borg is walking her dog one day when she discovers the mutilated body of an unknown man. Shortly thereafter, a Dutch student living in Oslo is discovered wandering around, covered in what turns out to be the victim’s blood. He refuses to say anything, though, about the crime or his role in it. He behaves very oddly, but not threateningly, and insists that he will say nothing unless Karen Borg represents him.
It’s a bizarre request, considering that, for one thing, Borg found the body. For another, she is not an expert at criminal cases. But, when Police Attorney Håkon Sand explains that the police have no real case without the Dutchman’s cooperation, she agrees to talk to him. When she does, he tells her that his name is Han van der Kerch, and he admits to murdering the dead man. He won’t say why, though, and he is otherwise not very communicative.
Without their suspect’s cooperation, Sand and his colleague, Detective Inspector (DI) Hanne Wilhelmsen, have to start at the very beginning to identify the dead man and connect him to van der Kerch. After some work, the victim is identified as a small-time drug dealer named Ludvig Sandersen. It’s still not clear what van der Kerch’s motive is, but there could be many reasons for killing a drug dealer. They’re working on that case when another murder is reported. This time, the victim is an attorney named Hans Olsen. At first, there seems no connection between the two dead men. But then, Wilhelmsen discovers that Sandersen was Olsen’s client. Then, a man named Jacob Frøstrup dies of an apparent overdose while he’s in police custody.
Wilhelmsen believes that these three incidents are related, but she and Sand can’t find the link among them. But they start to make some progress, and they soon discover two important things. One is that the trail of this investigation leads to some very high places, so the police will have to move very, very carefully. And they’ll have to be absolutely sure of their evidence. The other is that someone is determined that Wilhelmsen and Sand will not find out the truth. This leads to serious danger for both them. They’re going to have to build an airtight case, and stay alive, if they’re going to solve these murders. And what they find will have serious implications for several important people.
This is a police procedural. So, the case is solved through gathering evidence, talking to witnesses and suspects, looking through files, and so on. The novel was published in 1993, so Wilhelmsen, Sand, and the other team members don’t have access to today’s extensive internet or to social media. That said, though, they do use computers for some data searches. There is disagreement now and then between Wilhelmsen and Sand. And there is a little concern about the police politics involved in the case. That said, though, this novel doesn’t have the ‘patch wars,’ professional jealousy, police corruption, and sabotage that so often are a part of police procedurals.
Sand is an attorney. So is Borg, and so are other several other characters in the novel. So, readers also get a look at the legalities of arresting someone in Norway, holding that person, preparing for hearings, and the like. It’s not a legal mystery, but the novel does touch on these issues. It’s also worth noting that there is discussion of what the police may and may not do when they build a case. Part of Sand’s job, and that of his supervisors, is to ensure that the police don’t do anything that could be taken apart in court by a skilled attorney for the other side. In that sense, readers who prefer their police procedurals to be accurate (in terms of what can and cannot happen during an investigation) will be pleased.
The story is told from several points of view, including Wilhelmsen’s, Sand’s, Borg’s, and some of the other characters. Readers who prefer only one perspective will notice this. There are times, too, when the point of view isn’t identified at first. But it doesn’t take long for it to be clear whose perspective is being shared. Through this strategy, we learn about the main characters.
Wilhelmsen is skilled at her job, and has earned the respect of her colleagues and bosses. But she keeps her personal and professional lives strictly separate. Everyone knows her, but she doesn’t have a close friendship with anyone, even Sand. She has a stable relationship with her partner Cecilie, although they do have their disagreements. Readers who are tired of drunken, dysfunctional, or ‘maverick’ police will appreciate Wilhelmsen. As the series goes on, several story arcs impact her life, but in this novel, she is happy in her job, and relationship, and pleased at her promotion. She can be morose at times, but she also has a dark sort of wit.
‘…they [Wilhelmsen and Sand] were grinning all the way to the car, which Hanne had rather cheekily left on the pavement outside. She’d put a police sign behind the windscreen to lend legality to her inconsiderate parking.’
The Blind Goddess is a police procedural with a legal angle to it as well. It has a clear Oslo setting, and introduces a competitive and determine investigator. But what’s your view? Have you read The Blind Goddess? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 23 October/Tuesday, 24 October – The Mask of Dimitrios/A Coffin For Dimitrios – Eric Ambler
Monday, 30 October/Tuesday 31 October – Above Suspicion – Lynda La Plante
Monday, 6 November/Tuesday 7 November – Nunslinger 1 – Stark Holborn