What Dark Clouds Hold – Anne Holt
Reviewer: Kerry James
On a summer’s day, Johanne Vik arrives at the home of her friends Jon and Ellen Mohr ready to celebrate their young son’s birthday. What greets Johanne on her arrival is a scene of devastation: the boy was left unattended and when he climbed a ladder he fell to his death.
Simultaneously, Oslo is under attack. An explosion has torn the city apart and the eyes of the police department are focused elsewhere. A newly qualified officer named Henrik Holme is the only one available to attend the Mohr household. As Holme begins to investigate, he calls upon Johanne for assistance, and casts doubt on the claim that the death was a tragic accident. But there are shadowy figures at work, as yet unseen by Johanne or Holme, determined to hide the truth. Meanwhile, Johanne’s husband Adam Stubo – preoccupied with his police work – doesn’t see the danger his wife is placing herself in: will the pieces of the puzzle fall into place before it’s too late?
Review by Kerry James
A sturdy lad of eight with Attention Deficit Disorder falls from a stepladder placed in the family living room on the eve of a party to be held in the house. Johanne Vik, an expert profiler, visits his parents, her friends, soon afterwards to find them in shock and the boy dead. At the same time, a terrorist bombs part of downtown Oslo so that police and emergency services rush to the scene. This is the fifth and final book in a series to feature Johanne Vik and her husband Detective Adam Stubo, but we have little of Stubo in it because he is out all hours attending to the disaster and the hunt for the terrorist, or collapsed exhausted in sleep at home. Johanne feels uneasy about the child’s supposed accidental death and explores the circumstances surrounding it although she is physically unwell.
The terrorist attack is barely sketched as a background event. In the novel it seems to serve primarily as a reason to keep the experienced police occupied so that a novice, Police Constable Hendrik Holme, is assigned to the boy’s death. He blushes and stammers, has a limited and odd personal life, but is tenacious.
“‘You’ve done a great deal, [the Police Prosecutor] said….But then you’ve done most of it wrong as well. The problem is that you watch too much Law and Order. What the hell were you doing up at that teacher’s house? And at the grandmother’s?’…
‘But I’ve found out quite a lot,’ he said submissively.’(p.189).
Nevertheless, the case is taken away from him. But Holme lies about having copies of his case notes and continues his investigation anyway. A policeman is all he has ever wanted to be. Vik perceives that he, like her daughter, has a minor mental aberration albeit one that allows him to operate better and more independently than her child.
The narrative proceeds in a fragmentary way as bits and pieces come to hand separately to Holme and to Vik. Slowly, by inference and snippets of information from suspicious minds, especially those of the parents of the boy’s parents, the tension builds and the mood darkens.
Other children in the novel have developmental problems and several people in authority in turn are outed as not seeing what they prefer not to see in the matter of domestic child abuse. The principal of the boy’s school, who has a gorgeous adopted little girl, emerges as a best friend of the dead boy’s father, for example. Johanne feels her way toward the solution beset by physical weakness and her marriage and family situation. Yet, for me, the young police officer, Holme, was the more interesting and appealing character with his drive, his compulsive goal, and his off-kilter approach.
The novel unravels a complex domestic situation, explores quite how trying unusual, gifted, or handicapped children can be, observes their carers’ differing reactions to their difficulties, and has several interesting characters, including the dead boy’s father’s attractive young partner, who loves the boy and money in almost equal parts. This is a slow-building but satisfying mystery novel with many twists and turns and a shock ending.