Two Reviews – Fear Not and Invisible Murder

I recently finished Anne Holt’s 2009 novel, Fear Not, translated by the always excellent Marlaine Delargy. What a fun ride, blending a puzzling plot with serious social issues. When the bishop of Bergen is stabbed to death late at night at Christmastime, her husband and son seem able or unwilling to explain why she was alone at night outdoors. Adam Stubo tries to sort out the high-profile case, unaware of the related cases unfolding around him. Because the deaths are explained as suicides or drug overdoses or inexplicable but unremarkable acts of violence visited on people on the margins, nobody connects the dots until Stubo’s wife, Johanne Vik, meets with an American friend who fills her in on a new kind of hate crime.

This is a deeply involving novel with a big cast of characters whose stories are skillfully interwoven. As in the preceding book in the series, Death in Oslo, things hinge on a coincidence of sorts, but it’s not at all hard to go with the story, which is absorbing. One interesting technique Holt uses is connecting each new scene with the previous one with a phrase, an image, or a thought. I began to enjoy looking for these little narrative hook-and-eye features. Another feature that seems a common thread in her books is the uncovering of a conspiracy, which in this case is fairly fanciful but an interesting way to think through the implications of religious fervor and bigotry. The final pages include a touching, if unusual, alternative depiction of religious faith. I thoroughly enjoyed this complex and well-plotted mystery.

It has been a few weeks since I read Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis’s second Nina Borg mystery, Invisible Murder (translated by Tara Chace), which I also enjoyed very much. (Full disclosure: right after I read the book, the authors spent three days on our campus. They are interesting and charming people and I enjoyed spending time with them; that said, I know a lot of authors who are charming people whose books are not to my taste, and have occasionally met an author whose books I like much better than them. In this case I like both the books and the authors. Whew!)  As in The Boy in the Suitcase, the story involves multiple points of view and locations. The authors have enough respect for their readers to assume they will be able to put the pieces together.

Invisible Murder  begins when a boy in Hungary finds something in an old, abandoned hospital that he thinks he can sell; his half-brother is a law student in Budapest facing a major exam, a test of his ability to blend into Hungarian society. Each is in his own way desperate because they are Roma (or Gypsy), an ethnic group that is badly discriminated against. The boy, whose family needs money for the most basic things, arranges a sale with someone in Copenhagen, but once there, he gets sick before he can hand off the mysterious package. His older half-brother gives a brilliant oral exam, but his professor fails him anyway, because . . . well, we can’t have Roma earning law degrees. He follows his brother to Copenhagen and is caught up in the mess that ensues.

So is Nina Borg, though she knows helping a group of immigrants will put her marriage to the test again. She is under strict instructions to think of her children first, but she has a hard time turning away when nobody else is available to help. When she goes to a garage, she finds a large group of undocumented Roma, many of them suffering from a mysterious illness. In both books in this series, the authors show how inequality and desperation don’t observe political borders. Victims are not all angelic, and bad guys are not without their reasons. As in the previous book, the motive behind the crime is surprising. I am very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series, this one partly set in the Ukraine. (The authors are considering taking their research somewhere warmer, perhaps with nice beaches, next time.)

5 thoughts on “Two Reviews – Fear Not and Invisible Murder

  1. i will definitely put Fear Not on my TBR list and try to find it here. I read Invisible Murder about a month ago and concur with your review. It was excellent, although a bit disjointed in the beginning.
    But then it took on a life of its own with an interesting story and characters, both Roma and Danish.
    Nina Borg has quite a time here, personally and professionally, and so does her daughter. She’s left in quite a tough situation, about which I’d like to keep reading in book three.
    The authors are quite compassionate about the plight of the Roma (and by the way, they do not like the term “Gypsy,” consider it offensive) in both Hungary and Denmark.
    However, I keep my fingers crossed that they will consider their readers’ interest and keep the series going beyond the third book.

    • What’s interesting, reading these two books together, is that both authors have a lot of characters who are introduced without any obvious connection among them until we’re well into the story. So there’s some disjointedness in both, though it’s very deliberate. I realized after reading Fear Not how much I am used to reading books that are either first person narration or a close third person narration.

  2. I have Fear Not sitting on my TBR bookshelf. It might move up to the top position after reading your review. Also look forward to reading more about Nina Borg and the Roma people. There must be people that identify with Roma culture in Australia, but they are well hidden, or at least, not called “Gypsy, or Roma”, instead I think they would be, “just another Australian of ethnic background”. So I have much to learn about this culture, and thus this book can be a learning experience as well as a recreational experience for me,

    • The authors, when visiting our college, talked about the research they do for their books and one concern they had was not over-exaggerating the situation Roma face in Hungary. They were particularly concerned about a scene in which Sandor takes his oral exam and is failed in front of his fellow students, obviously only because he is half-Roma – and then heard someone describe a very similar situation that had happened to him. So, though it’s shocking, they feel it’s not inaccurate.

  3. Okay, I just purchased Fear Not, don’t want to miss this book by Anne Holt, while I (im)patiently await the next translation in the Hanne Wilhelmstrom series. That series just takes up my days until I’m finished reading, chores, errands, forgotten.

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