Book Review: Dead Joker, by Anne Holt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dead_jokerDead 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

Dead Joker
by Anne Holt
Published by Corvus
ISBN: 9780857898142

Read the Girl: the first three Millennium books, redux

I have just completed the #ReadtheGirl challenge. While I read Stieg Larsson’s series about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist during the original hype, I was keen to re-read the originals before the fourth book in the series was to be released.

cv_the_girl_in_the_spiders_webWhile the book, titled The Girl in the Spider’s Web, is fully authorised by Larsson’s estate; his long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson has strongly suggested that allowing this book to happen at all was not in the series’ best interest. Gabrielsson claims to have 200 pages of a fourth (claimed by Larsson’s family to be a fifth) in the series, and continues to fight to hold his literary rights.

David Lagercrantz is the author of this book, and so heavily-guarded were the details of the book by the publishers, that Lagercrantz wrote the draft on a computer without internet access, and personally delivered the typed pages to his publisher. I’m not sure exactly how all of the publishers who are releasing the title simultaneously on 27 August have kept the secret, despite needing to edit it on their computers, and print it digitally; but okay, we get the gist.

cv_the_girl_with_the_dragon_tattooWhat are the strengths that I hope Lagercrantz is capable of emulating in his book? The most crucial element in the Millennium trilogy for me, the main reason in fact that it worked, is Salander’s unique character. Her strengths and weaknesses were essential to solving the crimes in each of the three books that I have just re-read. She is seriously your go-to girl for hacking computers and for kicking some bad-guy woman-haters’ butt.

Larsson was also an excellent writer of political intrigue, and this reflects his own background as a journalistic expert in right-wing extremism, as well as being himself a far-left activist. He gave enough detail about the Swedish political system as it stands, to convince me that the activities that led to Salander being declared mentally incompetent are not too far-fetched to make a compelling storyline.

cv_the_girl_who_played_with_fireThe way in which Larsson utilised his many excellent characters was very well planned. He thought nothing of pulling up a bit-part player to follow through third-person narration, simply to get across the sense of this person’s motivations. In the third book, we heard from Edklinth in this way, also Inspector Faste in the second book; rarely have I seen an author who was so able to pull in the number of view-points required to get the full story across with all of its complexities. This was more necessary in the second and third books of course, because those dealt more closely with Salander’s backstory and the cover-up needed to keep her shut up after her attack on her father.

However, I hope that Lagercrantz doesn’t micromanage the settings of his book as much as Larsson was guilty of. There were moments in the first three books where I was shouting ‘I don’t care what the bloody room looks like or where the flowers were, just get on with the action, man.’ I am not so visual a reader that I need the accuracy Larsson gave his settings; I’m more than happy to get the gist and move on.

cv_the_girl_who_kicked_the_hornets_nestSo where did we finish with the third book? Without giving out obvious spoilers, most of the plot surrounding Salander and her father Zalachenko has been put to bed. The only outstanding element of Salander’s background concerns her twin sister, Camilla, so I expect to learn more concerning her in the coming book. Where is she, and why was she complicit in covering up her father’s actions? Blomkvist has completed his book about the Section, and published it, while Erika Berger – the editor of the Millennium magazine, who briefly left to work for a big newspaper – is back where she belongs. Salander and Blomkvist have made up, sort of, by the end of the book; while Blomkvist has a relationship with Monica Figuerola that is still on the cards.

On the topic of Blomkvist’s amorous pursuits, I have always struggled to see Blomkvist as anything more than an idealistic version of the author himself, with a similar background, and passions; and the fact that no woman within 50 miles is safe from his charms has always struck me as far-fetched and frankly, irritating. I must add I am not a fan of crime novels as a general rule, similarly because the men are “Men” and the women are “Women”. Luckily, Larsson is enough of a feminist for none of the women in his books to be completely within the “Women” mould.

One thing that the exercise of ‘reading the girl’ has given me, indeed the point of the promotion, is a great desire to read the next in the series. Controversy or not, this is going to be a huge seller for booksellers across the world. I wish it all the best and look forward to reading along.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The latest editions of the Millennium trilogy:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, published by MacLehose Press, 9780857054036
The Girl who Played with Fire
, by Stieg Larsson, published by MacLehose Press, 9780857054043
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
, by Stieg Larsson, published by MacLehose Press, 9780857054050

Coming Soon:

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz, published by Maclehose Press, 9780857053503

Email digest: Wednesday 7 August 2013

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The Ladies’ Litera-Tea on Sunday 25 August looks delicious!

Check out the programme of events for next month’s Going West Books and Writers Weekend here

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Congratulations to the authors and publishers shortlisted for the 2013 Davitt Awards (for Australian female crime writers)

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A different sort of alphabet book…

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