In this complex, at times slow-moving crime thriller from Norwegian author Holt, her second to appear in the U.S. (after What Is Mine), Oslo husband-and-wife detectives Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik go up against an ingenious serial killer whose first victims are a talk show host whose tongue is cut out and a female politician crucified with a copy of the Koran placed in a delicate position. Despite the dramatic nature of the murders, Stubo finds few leads. It's not until Vik, trained as a profiler, uncovers a vital piece of information about the children of the talk show host that Stubo can begin to make headway. Are the killings random, part of a pattern or personal? As Stubo and Vik painstakingly work to uncover the truth, the author intersperses scenes from the viewpoints of the killer and potential victims. While this approach dilutes some of the suspense, it does mean readers get a rich picture of Norway's politics and culture on their way to a somewhat anticlimactic resolution. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
What Never Happensby Anne Holt
Something terrifying is happening all over Oslo: celebrities are turning up dead in the most macabre of situations. A talk show host is found with her tongue cut out, a politician crucified with a copy of the Koran stuffed inside of her, a literary critic stabbed in the eye. It's clear that the killer is sending some sort of message-but what is he trying to say
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Something terrifying is happening all over Oslo: celebrities are turning up dead in the most macabre of situations. A talk show host is found with her tongue cut out, a politician crucified with a copy of the Koran stuffed inside of her, a literary critic stabbed in the eye. It's clear that the killer is sending some sort of message-but what is he trying to say?
Police Commissioner Adam Stubo and his wife, profiler Johanne Vik, both exhausted by the arrival of their new baby, are reluctant to join the investigation until it becomes totally necessary. As Stubo leads the inquiry, Johanne stays at home with the child, finding herself haunted by a pattern she remembers from her FBI stint years before, a time she's tried hard to put out of her mind. But as time seems to be running out, she must confront the demons of her past in order to stop the killer from completing this twisted series of murders.
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What Never Happens
By Anne Holt Grand Central Publishing
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One To the east of Oslo, where the hills flatten out down toward Lørenskog, a station town by the Nita River, cars had frozen solid overnight. People on foot pulled their hats down over their ears and wrapped their scarves tighter around their necks as they trudged the few punishing miles to the bus stop on the main road. The houses in the small cul-de-sac fended off the frost with drawn curtains and snowdrifts that blocked the driveways. Huge icicles hung from the eaves of an old wooden villa at the end of the road down by the woods, disasters in waiting.
The house was white.
Inside the front door with its leaded glass and molded brass handle, at the end of the unusually spacious hall to the left, in a study that was dominated by minimalist art and lavish furniture, sitting behind an imposing desk between boxes of unopened letters, was a dead woman. Her head had fallen back, and her hands rested on the arms of her chair. A trickle of dried blood ran from her lower lip, down her bared neck, split around her breasts, and then joined again on her impressively flat stomach. Her nose was also bloody. In the light from the ceiling fixture, it looked like an arrow pointing to the dark hole that had once been a mouth. Only a stump remained of her tongue, which had obviously been carefully removed. The cut was clean and sharp.
It was warm in the room, almost too hot.
Detective Inspector Sigmund Berli from the Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service, the NCIS, finally closed his cell phone and looked over at a digital thermometer just inside the southeast-facing panorama window. Outside, it was seventeen degrees.
"Amazing that the windows don't break," he said, carefully tapping the windowpanes. "Nearly fifty-five degrees difference between inside and outside. Incredible."
No one seemed to pay him any attention.
Under her silk robe with its golden collar, the dead woman was naked. The belt lay on the floor. A youngish policeman from the Romerike police took a step back when he saw the yellow coil.
"Shit," he gasped, then ran his fingers through his hair in embarrassment. "I thought it was a snake or something."
The woman's missing body part lay beautifully wrapped in paper on the blotter on the desk in front of her, only the tip protruding from the middle of all the red. A plump, exotic plant; pale flesh with even paler taste buds and purple red-wine stains in the folds and cracks. A half-empty glass of wine was balanced on a pile of papers near the edge of the desk. The bottle was nowhere to be seen.
The detective sergeant cleared his throat. "Can't we at least cover her breasts? It just seems cruel that she has to ..."
"We'll have to wait," Sigmund Berli replied as he put his phone back into his breast pocket. "I'm going to keep trying."
He went down on one knee to get a closer look at the dead woman.
"Adam would be interested in this," he muttered. "So would his wife, for that matter."
"Nothing. Do we know anything about the timing yet?"
Berli stifled a sneeze. The silence in the room made his ears ring. He got up and needlessly brushed dust from his pants with stiff movements. A uniformed policeman was standing by the door to the hall. He had his hands behind his back and was shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he stared out the window, away from the body. Some Christmas lights still hung in one of the spruce trees. Here and there, you could see the bulbs glowing dimly under the branches and tightly packed snow, where it was dark.
"Does nobody know anything here?" Berli barked in irritation. "Don't you even have an estimated time of death?"
"Yesterday evening," the other man eventually replied. "But it's too early-"
"To say," Sigmund Berli finished his sentence. "Yesterday evening. Pretty vague, in other words. Where's-"
"They're away every Tuesday. The family, that is. Husband and daughter, who's six. If that's what you ..." The sergeant smiled uncertainly.
"Yes," Berli said and walked halfway around the desk.
"The tongue," he started and peered at the package on the desk. "Was it cut off while she was still alive?"
"Don't know," the sergeant answered. "I've got all the papers for you here. As we've finished examining everything and everyone's back at the station, you might-"
"Yes," Berli said, but the sergeant wasn't sure what he was agreeing with. "Who discovered the body if the family was away?"
"The housekeeper. A Filipino man who comes every Wednesday morning at six. He starts down here, he said, so he doesn't wake anyone too early, and then works his way up. The bedrooms are upstairs, on the second floor."
"Yes," Berli repeated with no interest. "Away every Tuesday?"
"That's what she said," the sergeant answered. "In all the interviews and such. She sends her husband and daughter out every Tuesday. Then she goes through all her letters herself. It's a matter of principle-"
"Right," mumbled Berli cynically as he stuck a pen into one of the boxes of letters. "I can believe that. It'd be impossible for one person to go through all of this."
He pointed at the dead woman again. "Sic transit gloria mundi," he said and peered into her mouth. "Her celebrity status isn't much good to her now."
"We've already gathered lots of clips and press cuttings, and everything is ready-"
Berli waved him away. The silence was overwhelming. No people could be heard on the street, no clocks ticked, the computer was turned off. The red cyclops eye of a radio stared at him mutely from the glass cabinet by the door. There was a Canada goose on the mantelpiece, frozen in flight. Its feet were faded, and it had hardly any feathers left in its tail. The icecold daylight painted a colorless rectangle on the carpet under the south-facing window. Sigmund Berli could hear his blood pounding in his ears. The uncomfortable feeling of being in a mausoleum made him run his finger down his nose. He couldn't decide whether he was irritated or at a loss. The woman still sat in the chair with her legs open, bare breasts and a tongueless, gaping hole. It was as if the horrendous crime had robbed her not only of an important body part but also of her humanity.
"You guys always get pissed off if you're called in too late," the sergeant said eventually, "so we just left everything as it was, even though we're done with most things-"
"We will never be done," Berli said. "But thank you. Smart thinking. Especially with this lady. Does the press-"
"Not yet. We hauled in the Filipino, and we'll hold him for questioning for as long as we can. We've been as careful as possible outside. Securing the evidence is important though, especially in snow like this, so I'm sure the neighbors are wondering what's going on. But no one could have tipped off the press yet. And in any case, they're all too busy with the new princess right now."
A fleeting smile became serious.
"But then again, obviously ... Fiona from On the Move with Fiona murdered. In her own home and in this way, well-"
"In this way," Berli nodded. "Strangled?"
"The doctor thinks so. No stab wounds, no bullets. Marks on her throat, you can see-"
"Mmmm. But take a look at this!"
Berli studied the tongue on the desk. The paper was elaborately folded, like a low vase with an opening for the tip of the tongue and elegant, symmetrical wings.
"Almost looks like a petal," the younger policeman said as he wrinkled his nose. "With something horrible in the middle. Quite-"
"Striking," Berli muttered. "Whoever did it must have made this beforehand. I can't imagine you'd kill someone like this and then take time to do some origami."
"I don't think there's any suspicion of sexual abuse."
"Origami," Sigmund Berli repeated. "The Japanese art of paper folding. But ..."
Berli bent down even closer to the severed organ. The sergeant did the same. The two policemen stood like this for a while, forehead to forehead, breathing in time with each other.
"It's not just been cut off," Berli said finally and straightened his back. "The tongue has been split. Someone has split the tip in two."
For the first time since Sigmund Berli arrived at the scene of the crime, the uniformed policeman at the door turned toward them. He looked like a teenager, with an open face and acne. He ran his tongue over his lips again and again while his Adam's apple jumped up and down above his tight collar.
"Can I go now?" he whimpered. "Can I go?"
* * *
"Throneowning," the young girl said and smiled.
The half-dressed man drew the razor slowly down his throat before rinsing it and turning around. The child was sitting on the floor, pulling her hair through the holes in an old swimming cap.
"You can't go like that, honey," he said. "Come on, let's take it off. We can find the hat you got for Christmas instead. You want to look beautiful when you meet your sister for the first time, don't you?"
"Throneowning," Kristiane repeated and pulled the swimming cap on even further. "Hairgrowing. Throne hair."
"Do you mean heir to the throne?" asked Adam Stubo, rinsing off what was left of the shaving cream on his face. "That's someone who's going to be a king or queen in the future."
"My sister's going to be a queen," Kristiane replied. "You're the biggest man in the world, really."
"You think so?"
He lifted the girl up and held her on his hip. Her eyes roamed uncertainly, as if eye contact and touch at the same time would be too much. She was nearly ten and small for her age.
"Heir to the throne," Kristiane said to the ceiling.
"That's right. We're not the only ones who had a little girl today. So did-"
"Princess Mette-Marit is so pretty," the child interrupted and clapped her hands. "She is on TV. We had cheese on toast for breakfast. Leonard's mommy said a princess had been born. My sister!"
"Yes," Adam said and put her down again before carefully trying to remove the swimming cap without pulling her hair too much. "Our baby is a beautiful princess. But she's not heir to the throne. What do you think we should name her?"
The cap came off eventually. Her long hair clung to the inside, but Kristiane didn't seem to feel any pain as he loosened the rubber from her head.
"Abendgebet," she said.
"That means evening prayers," he explained. "That's not her name. The girl in the picture above your bed, I mean. It's German for what the girl is doing ..."
"Abendgebet," Kristiane said.
"Let's see what Mommy says," Adam said, as he pulled on his pants and shirt. "Go and find the rest of your clothes. We have to get a move on."
"Move on," Kristiane repeated and went out into the hall. "Hoof on. Cows and horses and small pussy cats. Jack! King of America! Do you want to visit the baby too?"
A big mutt with yellowy brown fur and a tongue hanging out of his smiling mouth came tearing out of the girl's bedroom. He whined eagerly and scampered in circles around the girl.
"Jack will have to stay at home," Adam told her. "Now, where's your hat?"
"Jack's coming with us," Kristiane said cheerfully and tied a red scarf around the dog's neck. "The heir to the throne is his sister too. Leonard's mommy says we've got equality in Norway, so girls can do what they want. And you're not my daddy. Isak's my daddy. So there."
"All very true," Adam laughed. "But I love you lots. And now we have to go. Jack has to stay at home. Dogs aren't allowed in hospitals."
"Hospitals are for sick people," Kristiane said as Adam helped her with her coat. "The baby's not sick. Mommy's not sick. But they're still in the hospital. Spot the pill."
"You're a little rationalist, you are."
He kissed her and pulled her hat down over her ears. Suddenly she looked him straight in the eye. He stiffened, as he always did in these rare moments of openness, unexpected glimpses into a mind that no one could fully grasp.
"An heir to the throne has been born," she quoted ceremoniously from the morning's announcements on TV before taking a breath and continuing, "A great event for the nation, but most of all, for the parents. And we are delighted that it is a lovely little princess this time."
A muffled ringing interrupted from the coat rack.
"Cell phone," she said mechanically. "Dam-di-rum-ram."
Adam Stubo stood up and frantically felt all the pockets in the chaos of jackets and coats until he finally found what he was looking for.
"Hello," he said resignedly. "Stubo here."
Kristiane calmly started to take off her outdoor clothes again. First the hat, then the coat.
"Hold on a minute," Adam said into the phone. "Kristiane! Don't ... Wait a minute."
The girl had already taken off most of her clothes and was standing in her pink underpants and undershirt. She pulled her tights over her head.
"No way," Adam Stubo said. "I've got fourteen days' paternity leave. I've been awake for over twenty-four hours, Sigmund. Jesus, my daughter was born less than five hours ago, and now ..."
Kristiane arranged the legs of her tights like two long braids down her front. "Pippi Longstocking," she said, pleased with herself. "Diddle, diddle, tra la la la la."
"No," Adam said so brusquely that Kristiane was startled and began to cry. "I've got time off. We've just had a baby. I ..."
Her crying morphed into a long howl. Adam never got used to this tiny child's howling.
"Kristiane," he said in desperation. "I'm not angry with you. I was talking to ... Hello? I can't. No matter how spectacular the whole thing is, I can't leave my family right now. Goodbye. And good luck." He snapped the phone shut and sat down on the floor. They should have been at the hospital a long time ago.
"Kristiane," he said again. "My little Pippi. Can you show me Mr. Nelson?"
He knew better than to hug her. Instead, he started whistling. Jack lay down on his lap and fell asleep. A damp patch grew on his pants under the dog's open, snoring mouth. Adam whistled and hummed and sang all the children's songs he could think of. The girl stopped crying after forty minutes. Without looking at him, Kristiane pulled the tights off her head and slowly started to get dressed.
"Time to visit the heir to the throne," she said flatly. The cell phone had rung seven times.
He hesitated before turning it off without listening to the messages.
* * *
A week had passed, and the police were obviously no further along. It didn't surprise her.
"Internet reports are useless," the woman with the laptop said to herself.
As she hadn't bothered to subscribe to a local server, she was charged extortionate fees to surf the net. She got stressed when she thought of all that money being eaten up while she waited for a connection on the slow, analog line to Norway. She could, of course, go to Chez Net. They charged five euros for fifteen minutes and had broadband. But unfortunately the place was full of drunk Australians and braying Brits, even now in winter. So she didn't bother, not now anyway.
There had been remarkably little fuss in the first days after the murder. The little princess had the full attention of the media circus. The world truly wanted to be deceived. But then it started to get more coverage. The woman with the laptop simply could not stand Fiona Helle. It was an unbearably politically correct response, but there wasn't much to be done about that. She read phrases like "loved by the people" in the papers. Which was fair enough, given that the program had been watched by well over a million viewers every Saturday, for five seasons in a row. She had only seen a couple of shows, just before she went away. But that was more than enough to realize that for once she agreed with the cultural snobs' usual, unbearably arrogant condemnation of popular entertainment. In fact, it was just one such vitriolic criticism in Aftenposten, written by a professor of sociology, that made her sit down in front of the television one Saturday evening and waste one and a half hours watching On the Move with Fiona.
But it hadn't been a total waste of time. It was ages since she had felt so provoked. The participants were either idiots or deeply unhappy. But they could hardly be blamed for being either. Fiona Helle, on the other hand, was successful, calculating, and far from true to her love of the common people. She waltzed into the studio dressed in creations that had been bought worlds away from H&M. She smiled shamelessly at the camera while the poor creatures revealed their pathetic dreams, false hopes, and not least extremely limited intelligence. Prime time.
The woman, who now got up from the desk by the window and walked around the unfamiliar living room without knowing quite what she wanted, did not normally join in public debate. But after watching one episode of On the Move with Fiona, she'd been tempted. Halfway through writing a letter from an "outraged reader," she'd stopped and laughed at herself before deleting it. She had been in a good mood for the rest of the evening. As she couldn't sleep, she allowed herself to indulge in a couple of TV3's terrible late-night films and had even learned something from them, if she remembered correctly.
At least feeling angry was a form of emotion.
Readers' letters in newspapers were not her chosen form of expression.
Tomorrow she would go into Nice and see if she could find some Norwegian papers.
Excerpted from What Never Happens by Anne Holt Copyright © 2008 by Anne Holt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Anne Holt is one of Scandinavia's most successful crime authors, with over 3 million books sold worldwide. She is a former Minister of Justice, lawyer, TV news editor and anchor, and journalist. She lives in Norway and France. She has lived in the United States and speaks perfect English.
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This book was very hard for me to get into in the beginning. I did not care for the writing style right off the bat. The somewhat short sentences and where the characters kept interupting each other got annoying after awhile. But once I got past that part, the book started to catch my interest. I have to say it really took until well into the middle of the book before I started to think it was worth it to finish reading. By then, I was looking foward to picking it up again each evening to read more. I read many of these types of books and I had no clue to the person committing the murders until almost the very end. So that was interesting to me that I could not figure out who did it. And the ending, that left me crying "Wait, don't stop here". So now I have to find the next book in the series to continue the story! That part was fine and I am actually glad this is an older book so I don't have to wait a year for the next one to come out. I also plan on finding the first e book that precludes this one so I know the whole story about the characters. So overall, a pretty good read. Slow to start but keep with it and you should enjoy the ending, leaving you eagerly looking for the next one!
I'm reviewing this at 70 pages in. I've tried quite hard to like this story. In some ways it is well written. And in others, it tries so hard to be the mysterious thriller that it can be actually confusing and hard to follow. Perhaps that is the writing/reading style in Scandinavia? But for this U.S. reader, it's a stall out. You don't find out enough about any single character to create any true connection. And it's so confusing and not quite compelling enough to push me to read further. Sorry Ms. Holt, this is a fail.
We all love being able to figure out the mystery, and from early in the book, we are introduced to the thoughts of the killer, but not his identity. As the plot lumbers on and we are given more facts, things become even less clear, and even at the reveal the basic motive is still not truly apparent. This mystery hides in a box no one is able to open...very intriguing. The detective has married the profiler we met in the first of the series, "What is Mine' and their personal story is explored as this second mystery unfolds. The complex realtionship they have is not drawn in clear lines, as is often the case in real life. Their struggle to find the killer is hampered by the personal lives of the victims as well as the drama of their own lives. Don´t read this if you want a typical formula murder mystery. All the action is, if I may quote from the master, Agatha Christie, 'in the little grey cells.´´ and that is the way I like my mysteries!
It started with promise, but quickly descended to mediocrity. The characters do not connect with the readers, and therefore does not make for a smooth transistion from page to page. The most dissapointing was the ending. I struggled through the book only to get to the final pages to be totally duped by such a lame ending. It was two weeks wasted of my reading time.
This may be one of the worst books I have ever read,Once I start reading a book I have a hard time not finishing it,thinking there must be redeming ualities, not so here, so on I went. The idea would have made a good mystery, but it was mostly about this extreme disfunctional family, His, hers and their children, the husband was a policeman and the wife a profiler. More time was spent wondering if that noise was the 6 week old crying, the wife not wanting to go to bed and get some sleep, The 10 year old girl cut the heads off all of her Barbie dolls with a knife, he only explanation given is that she was bored. Many, many,many pages later, here was a small insert that the killer was bored. I still haven't figured out what the 6 week old baby's green runny, stinky poo had to do with the story. My advise is DON' T BOTHER.
Someone is killing celebrities. A talk show host is murdered. The murder precisely cut out her tongue, split it, and displayed in an origami vase. A politician is murdered and nailed to a wall with the Korean stuffed between her splayed legs. It is difficult balancing a career and a new baby. It is worse when you are investigating a murder and suspect it maybe a serial killer. Even though she is on family leave, Adam and Johanne Vik are drawn into the investigation. The murders stir Johanne¿s memory of something from her days at Quantico, but she can¿t quite put her finger on what. She cannot sleep for thinking about the murders. Could the Vik family be next on the killer¿s list? All the clues point at ¿What Never Happens¿ in Norway. Successful Scandinavian author, Anne Holt never disappoints her fans. It is easy to see why her books have sold over 4 million copies. From the moment I began to read What Never Happens, I was hooked. The plot quickly draws the reader in and holds their attention to the very last word. The pace is fast, and the story line is well thought out. Holt successfully combines the investigation with the realities of family life. The mystery is fascinating. However, Holt¿s talent at developing her characters is what brings fans back. I really wanted to know what would happen with Johanne, Adam, and their children. The interaction between Kristine and Adam is heartwarming. Fans of mystery will not want to miss What Never Happens. Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com
This is a subtle and rewarding mystery, that takes awhile to start making sense. Pay attention to the paranoid young mother who has these irrational fears for the safety of her new baby. She subconsiously knows something that she hasn't realized yet.