Book review: Invisible Hands

invisible

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Great! A cold case! Why me? Kristian Wold bemoans his fate. He is the last detective to be assigned to the case. It is only pro forma. No one expects him to solve it. When the girl disappeared a year ago, 12 officers were assigned to the case. Then the number went to eight, to four, to two, and finally to one. He isn’t really supposed to solve it. His job is to close it once and for all. And as quickly as possible. The police department has more urgent and important matters to deal with.

Wold dutifully goes through all the accumulated paperwork to learn what he can about the case. Fourteen-year-old Maria lived with her divorced mother. One evening her mother asked her to get her something in a shop two blocks from their apartment. Maria went out and never returned. She vanished without a trace. No witnesses, no clues. Absolutely no leads.

Convinced that there is not much to be optimistic about, Wold begins the final phase of the investigation by going to interview Inger, Maria’s mother. She understands immediately that the job of this lone detective on her daughter’s case is to close it. Not wanting to give up, she finds this realization painful. At the very least she wants her daughter’s body to be found so that she can have closure.

Then something unexpected occurs that gives Inger hope. Wold falls in love with her and, therefore, wants to spend more time with her. His superior, however, insists that he close the cold case and focus exclusively on the new case that he has been assigned. Wold, therefore, must work on Maria’s case furtively when he is off duty. This also means he has to neglect his wife who has a serious health problem. Wold, however, prefers not to have to deal with her as her helplessness annoys him.

Wold is not a very likeable person. He lies to his boss about the extra work he is doing on the case and his developing intimate relationship with the mother. He goes back and forth between the two cases, giving more attention to Maria’s. He lies to his wife about his whereabouts on evenings and weekends.

At the outset he wants to find Maria and to find her alive. He begins to ask himself, however, what will happen to his relationship with Inger if he does solve the case. Will she be so grateful to him that their relationship will be solidified? Will it become permanent? Or has she been using him? Will she throw him away once he has served his purpose? Will she go back to her ex-husband who has been hanging around lately and has taken a strong dislike to Wold? Is it in his best interest to find Maria? The reader begins to question Inger’s motives as well, even to the point of wondering if she or her ex-husband had something to do with Maria’s disappearance.

Does Wold persevere and identify the invisible hands that stole Maria away? The novel is well written, and the author keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

Stig Sæterbakken was born in Lillehammer in 1966. He wrote a book of short stories, several books of poetry and of essays, and ten novels. Three of the novels have been translated into English: Siamese, Self-Control, and Through the Night, all published by Dalkey Archive Press.

Sæterbakken committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 46. He remains a very popular writer in Norway, and his books continue to be translated into other languages including English. A review of his novel Siamese was published in the July 11, 2014, issue of this newspaper.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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