Death of the Demon

Book review

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington

Death of the Demon book cover

Book cover: Death of the Demon by Anne Holt

While Jo Nesbø is usually considered the undisputed King of the Norwegian crime novel, Anne Holt and Karin Fossum are serious contenders for the female crown. Nesbø himself calls Holt “the godmother of the modern Norwegian crime novel.” Both women are prolific writers and continue to turn out engaging books.

Death of the Demon is the third novel in Holt’s bestselling Hanne Wilhelmsen series. The book begins with 12-year-old Olav Håkonsen arriving at the Spring Sunshine Foster Home and announcing, “I’m the new boy!”

With resolute stride he stomped to the middle of the floor, where he remained standing while the snow from his enormous sneakers formed little puddles around his feet. His stance was wide, as though to cancel the knock-kneed cross formed by his legs, he threw out his arms and repeated, “I’m the new boy!”

His mother has finally reached the conclusion that she can no longer control him and she agrees to let him be taken away. The boy would rather stay with his mother and is very upset about his new situation. He immediately develops a hatred for Agnes Vestavik, the home’s director, who has house rules to enforce. He does seem to be drawn to Maren Kalsvik, the deputy director, who shows him some kindness.

But then all hell breaks loose. The director is discovered dead at her desk with a knife buried in her back. And Olav has disappeared. Did he witness the murder and has, therefore, gone into hiding? Or could he be guilty of murder? Would he have had the strength to plunge the knife into Agnes?

Other individuals are soon put on the list of suspects. Did Maren covet the position of director too strongly? Did Terje Welby, the assistant director, fear that his dishonest dealings with the Home’s finances would come to light? Why does Eirik Vassbunn, the employee who discovered Agnes’s body, immediately take sick leave? Does he have something to hide? What about Agnes’s husband? Their marriage seemed to be on the rocks and he was in bad financial straits. And Agnes’s lover, the car salesman? Did he have a reason to eliminate her?

Chief Inspector Wilhelmsen and her partner Detective Billy T find very little physical evidence at the scene, and they don’t feel that any of the suspects have a strong motive for murder. The investigation drags on until a crucial clue is finally discovered. But in the meantime, other officers are involved in a frantic search for Olav, as it is feared he might be in danger.

In this crime novel, Holt also focuses on the shortcomings of Norway’s child welfare system. Like many Scandinavian crime novelists, she often sheds light on pressing social problems in her country. (Swedish Stieg Larsson, author of the hugely successful Millennium Trilogy, is the best-known example of a Scandinavian writer highlighting government failures.)

Holt shows the failure of the system to help Olav’s mother deal with her difficult and dangerous child. Everything comes to a head when the boy reaches the age of 12 and is finally removed from his home. She writes from experience, as she spent many years in her own law practice and also served a term as Norway’s Minister of Justice.

Holt has written 10 novels in her Wilhelmsen series, five in her Vik/Stubø series, and five stand-alone novels. Readers have many of her books to enjoy!

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 June 1, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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