Olav is a twelve year old boy with issues. He is very overweight - a fact emphasised by the fact that he’s built like a pear - and has had problems interacting with other people almost from the moment he was born. Because his mother was both unequal to the challenge he presented and unsuccessful in finding the assistance they so badly needed, Olav is being placed in an orphanage, under the care of child-services. From the moment Olav arrives, Agnes Vestavik, the orphanage’s director knows he is going to cause trouble. Olav doesn’t seem to be angry about his situation so much as hate it, and anybody associated with it.
When Agnes is found murdered at her desk late one evening, Olav has disappeared from the home without a trace. Hanne Wilhelmsen, recently promoted to superintendent in the Oslo police, is given the case, be it with only minimal manpower. Initially Hanne and her team are completely in the dark. There don’t appear to be any motives for this murder and it seems unlikely that the missing Olav killed the director. No matter how big, strong and angry the boy may be, nobody can quite see him as a twelve year old murderer.
As the investigation continues, motives for this crime seem to be popping up everywhere. It seems that most people connected with Agnes have a reason to lie to the police about their relationship with the woman. As suspects come and go, the chances that the crime will actually be solved seem to be getting smaller by the day. While Hanne Wilhelmsen is known for her almost infallible instincts when it comes to solving crime it seems that this is one case where they may let her down completely.
I love these mysteries. This is the fourth Hanne Wilhelmsen mystery I have read and each and every one of them has been a joy. Anne Holt plots a good mystery and presents it in such a way that the reader gets drawn into the story and the characters more with every page. She also strikes an almost perfect balance between the investigation and the private lives of the recurring characters in her books. With every book in this series we get to know Hanne Wilhelmsen a little bit better and see how she slowly learns to stop panicking about her relationship with Cecilie and her fear that others may find out about it.
It is more than just her private life keeping Hanne on her toes in this book though. Having only just been promoted to the more administrative than investigative position of superintendent, the investigator has a hard time finding the right balance between leading her team and being actively involved in the investigation.
I really liked the premise of this book. The obvious solution to the murder mystery in this story is so horrible that the reader can’t help being relieved when the evidence leads the investigators in different directions. The story strongly reminds me of an Agatha Christie mystery. There is a very limited cast of suspects, none of whom, initially at least, appear to have a clear motive for the murder. I liked the way in which the investigation slowly uncovered the various motives that did exist and the desperate and silly ways in which those close to Agnes tried to hide existing issues between them and the victim. Presented in this way, the investigation keeps the reader on their toes and never sure what to expect next.
Having said all of that, I have to admit that this was probably my least favourite Hanne Wilhelmsen mystery so far. I wasn’t too happy with the almost endless amounts of points of view I was presented with, especially since there were a few that, while interesting, didn’t seem to add a lot to the actual unravelling of the mystery. I also wasn’t entirely happy with the ending of this book, although I can’t say anything else about that without spoiling the story.
Despite those two reservations though, I have to say that it is a delight to read a well plotted mystery with properly developed characters and a story-line that provides more than just murder and mayhem. Anne Holt uses her mysteries to give her readers an insight into people and the society they live in without ever trying to get a certain message or agenda across. Her stories will make you think about more than just “who done it” and for that reason alone I will continue reading this series for as long as there are new titles available.