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The discovery in Bergen on Christmas Eve night of the body of Karin Lysgard, Norway's first female bishop, creates more headlines than does the horribly mutilated body of a teenage immigrant fished out of a harbour a few weeks earlier. Other murders perplex the police; there seems to be a spate of them but there don't appear to be any similarities. Detective Adam Stubo is sent to Bergen to investigate Bishop Lysgard's death and, after an initial interview with them , he suspects that the dead woman's son and widower know more than they are letting on.
Back home in Oslo, Adam's wife, Johanne Vik, is becoming concerned about her older daughter Kristianne, an unusual child who we are to assume has some type of learning difficulty though it's never explained exactly what. Kristianne had strayed from a family party at an Oslo hotel, walking into the path of an on-coming trolley bus oblivious to her surroundings; fortunately a passer-by pulled Kristianne out of the way with moments to spare. When Johanne asks her daughter what she was doing out there Kristianne can only tell her 'the lady's dead'; Johanne assumes that Kristianne is talking about the babysitter who's meant to be watching Kristianne and her sister at the late wedding so she dismisses the child's words but it later becomes clear that Kristianne's words should not have been so easily dismissed.
Johanne, a criminal psychologist, turns her mind to some work she's been commissioned to do looking into hate crime. It's an area she doesn't know a great deal about but she gets the opportunity to learn more when an old friend, now working in the States and an expert in the subject of hate related crime, makes a flying visit to Oslo. What she learns sets Johannes off on a train of thought that manages to connect the seemingly unrelated murders that have been taking place recently. Can she persuade the police that there's something in her theory and can she do it before more murders take place?
This is the second of Anne Holt's novels I've read but the first to feature Johannes Vik, however, there is a connection between the one I read (1222) and 'Fear Not'. When Johanne wants to talk to Adam about her theory about the murders she can't get hold of him in Bergen; Johanne has been on maternity leave for a while and no longer knows who in the local police would be the most understanding so she calls Hanne Wilhelmson, an old colleague who left the police after being paralysed during a shoot out. Hanne is the central character in 1222 and features in several of Anne Holt's novels. I found her brief appearance in 'Fear Not' a bit of a tease because she's a strong character and by contrast neither Adam nor Johanne really dominate this story, nor did either of them jump out to me as characters I'd like to follow into other novels. Johanne and Adam are a happily married couple who live a typical family life in the Norwegian capital with their young daughter and Johanne's daughter from a previous marriage. The ex-husband is a part of the family as are his parents. Perhaps because this is a happy, functional family I ddidn't find anything edgy to grab me; in contrast to other fictional Scandinavian crime fighters they are rather dull.
Anne Holt has used this novel to explore an aspect of (not just) Norwegian society and with the recent trial of Anders Behring Breivik this is certainly a timely read; in actual fact the novel was first published in 2009 a year before the massacre on Utoya. At least superficially, we tend to think of Scandinavian societies as tolerant and law-abiding but Anne Holt's novel raises some doubts as the victim count rises. Unfortunately I felt that she strays from the narrative too frequently with lengthy accounts of various hate groups and their origins. Rather absurdly a vital element in solving the murders is handed to Johanne on a plate though happily there proves still to be some mileage to be gotten from the story.
I didn't buy the idea that Johanne is so clueless on the area of hate crime. The lengthy section where her American friend brings Johanne up to speed on the subject I found patronising and smacked of Holt pushing her own (admittedly worthy) agenda. The plot is strong though peppered with too many different characters who are individually related to the plot but not to each other which makes keeping track of them a little arduous. By the second half, though, this feeling of being bombarded with characters and possibilities settled down and I felt more able to consider the options and come to my own conclusions about the outcome.
The wintry setting adds extra chill but this is also contrasted with the story taking place over Christmas because the cosy Scandinavian yuletide element makes the brutality of the murders that bit more shocking. This story could be told in any European country with much the outcome but the fact that it turns on its head what we generally assume about the open minded societies of Scandinavian northern Europe contributes to the shock aspect of the story.
I didn't feel as immediately connected to Johannes Vik and Adam Stubo and for that reason I probably wouldn't rush to read other novels featuring these characters. However Anne Holt, a former Minister of Justice in Norway, does understand good crime writing and when she's not too distracted with exploring society's big questions she writes very tidy and suspenseful novels.