Dead Joker is the fifth of a planned nine books in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Norwegian author Anne Holt.
After several years with the Oslo Police department, Holt set up her own law firm then went on to serve as Norway’s Minister for Justice for two years. This background is evident in her writing, as the descriptions of procedures and the frustrations of policing are believable.
Holt grabs the reader’s attention right from the start, when Chief Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is called in after the wife of Chief Public Prosecutor Sigurd Halvorsrud is found decapitated in the family home. Halvorsrud is covered in blood and his fingerprints are on the weapon, but he claims the murderer was Ståle Salvesen, a man he’d prosecuted years before.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Wilhelmsen is unconvinced of Halvorsrud’s guilt – until a witness says he saw Salvesen commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, days before the murder.
Dead Joker has a number of stories running alongside the murder that at first seem unconnected – a well-known journalist with a past he takes great care to keep hidden; Halvorsrud’s mentally ill daughter who seems more worried about her father being in jail than the death of her mother; and a reclusive author who cut off his ears when he was 13 – but when a second body is found beheaded while Halvorsrud is on bail, the plot moves into deeper and darker territory.
Just when things start to become clear, another twist is thrown into the mix to muddy the waters. Deciding who is on her side is driving Wilhelmsen crazy, and her superiors are starting to question her ability.
While she and long-term police colleague Billy T. struggle to make sense of all the evidence, Wilhelmsen also has to come to terms with the fact Cecilie, her partner of 20 years, is terminally ill. Who or what will win the battle for her attention?
This fast paced novel is up there with the best crime fiction. Hard to put down, Dead Joker is a great read, with every plot line neatly resolved by the final page. If you enjoy Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham, you will love Anne Holt.
Don’t let the fact this is the fifth book in the series deter you; after reading my first Rankin book (about the eighth he’d written), I went back and read them in order and I also plan to do that with Holt’s books – she’s that good.
Reviewed by Faye Lougher
by Anne Holt
Published by Corvus