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.)