In a shocking opening sequence, Beyond the Truth begins with an aged, cold, wounded, and hungry stray dog searching for food and shelter in a well-to-do neighborhood that he considers his turf. He is looking for food and shelter. He finds it.
Beyond the Truth is the seventh book in the Hanne Wilhemsen police procedural series by Norwegian author Anne Holt. It takes place between December 19th and December 28th during those post-solstice holiday days with five hours of weak sunlight during the long Nordic nights. It is Christmas in Oslo and four people were murdered. The time of year, the gloomy days with a febrile sun are as much a character in the the book as the people. Place is just everything, and you will shiver more than once.
Three of the victims belong to a well-known family whose internecine legal battles point to some obvious suspects. The other takes a while longer to identify. He a writer and who knows why he was there. The team of investigators that Hanne works with are pleased with their rapid progress in putting together a case against the very guilty looking son who was suing his father.
Meanwhile on the homefront, Hanne’s father has just died, her partner wants to have a baby, and Hanne is thinking of retiring and opening up a detective agency. The real issue, though, is Hanne is not convinced. The case seems almost too linear, too clear. Ignoring the fourth victim offends her sense of fairness, but also it is an affront to reason. They do not know he was an accidental victim.
I’ve been a fan of Scandinavian mysteries ever since I started borrowing Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall from the public library to my 7th grade math teacher’s consternation. It’s not just the chauvinism of the Scandinavian American attachment to an “old country” that exists only in family stories. Scandinavian mysteries approach murder and justice from a worldview that could not be more different from our own, one that sees crime solving more as healing tears in the fabric of community than tough guy warrior exploits. It is a worldview that appeals to me.
I did not realize that this was my first Hanne Wilhemsen mystery, so I was concerned that starting with book seven, I would either be confused or would be inundated with backstory. Happily, I need not have worried. The story was very much in the present. There are some hard feelings and jagged edges in the relationships, but we don’t have to know the play by play to understand the situation and Holt trusts us to not need everything explained.
The solution is slightly surprising, but it is also not completely fair and that is my one quibble with the story. Critical evidence is read, but not shared with readers. A few clues were dropped that alerted readers to the right place to look for a suspect, but there was nothing to lead us to someone specific. So even though, if an alert reader is considering the right universe of suspects, narrowing down to the right one requires revelation. That is only half-fair, but the rest of the book is so good that I don’t care.
Beyond the Truth will be released on December 5th. I received an electronic galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.