Norwegian crime book entrances reader throughout

Blind Goddess by Norwegian Anne Holt is a book you’ll want to read fast.

The title is unfortunate, a gaudy reference to Justitia, the ancient Roman goddess of justice portrayed carrying a scale and sword while wearing a blindfold, conspicuous in every courtroom in almost every country. Lady Justice, as she has been translated to the third estate, plays only a cameo role in Holt’s new book and is a kitschy reference to this dense police procedural involving wrongdoing among lawyers and highly placed government officials, beginning on page one with a brutal but seemingly random murder in a public park in Oslo, Norway.

Again, forgive the title – crime fiction publishers like sensational titles – and get ready for a mystery that is packed solid with concise writing and intricate plotting. Blind Goddess has more words on a page than should fit, more crumbs on the table than could possibly come from the loaf.

Yet, it is far from ponderous as we witness sultry police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen and inelegant police attorney Håkon Sand tweeze the thinnest of threads from the soiled hem of fabric draping the office windows of the highest criminal justice officials in Norway.

Soon after an unidentified corpse is found by Karen Borg jogging with her dog in the city park, a frightened and delirious man is discovered sitting in the middle of a roadway, just waiting to be arrested and covered in blood that soon becomes obvious is not his own. He refuses to talk for days as the police await forensics reports, but when he hears that the woman who found the body in the park is an attorney, he demands that she represent him. Karen Borg is a corporate lawyer with a prestigious international firm, not a defense attorney, but Håkon is an old law school chum and persuades her to visit with the peculiar prisoner just to see if she can ferret out his name, if nothing else.

She agrees, reluctantly, and immediately receives calls from Oslo’s top criminal defense attorney offering to take over the case. Why? What possible interest would swanky Peter Strup have in representing this itinerant and obviously schizophrenic vagrant for a pittance of his hourly rate?

Soon, there is another murder, this time a squalid criminal defense attorney. Hanne and Håken confidentially see a connection that’s too eerie to share with the other homicide investigators, and Blind Goddess proceeds to uncover a near-perfect drug distribution scheme that leads to the highest ranks of the Ministry of Justice, along a path that is studded with lethal tripwires protecting the sacrosanct.

Anne Holt is a consummate writer in the vein of Tana French, P.D. James and Peter Lovesey. Her chapters are short and complete vignettes, never leaving the reader searching for fragments with which to connect the dots, and acting as clues as a drumroll builds to the final crescendo.

The ending is kind of murky, but so are the endings of most crime mysteries and other long fiction – book authors just don’t seem to know how to wrap it up as well as short-story writers. Notwithstanding, this is a fine book that you won’t be sorry you read.

Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him at JeffMannix.com.