Review: Death of the Demon by Anne Holt

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (June 18, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451634803
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve-year-old Olav is the newest ward in a foster home outside of Oslo. It isn’t long before the staff realizes something isn’t quite right with Olav, the sheer hatred that shines in his eyes is quite evident. Removed from his mother’s care, Olav makes it apparent that he isn’t pleased with his new home, shouting curses and threats to the staff.

When the director of the foster home, Agnes Vestavik, is found dead at her desk, a kitchen knife plunged through her back and into her heart, Olav becomes the most obvious suspect. Yet he has disappeared from the walls of the foster home, roaming the streets of Oslo alone.

Hanne Wilhelmsen, recently promoted to chief inspector of the Oslo police, is assigned to the case. Working along detective Billy T., Hanne begins to not only investigate the murder but the disappearance of Olav as well. Immediately, she orders an investigation of the foster home and its staff.  Headstrong and independent, Hanne has a difficult time delegating her work and sharing her findings with others assigned to the case.  Her inability to trust others is not only a hindrance at the workplace but at home as well.   When the evidence begins mounting up, suggesting that one of the staff at the foster home is responsible for the director’s death, Hanne can’t shake the feeling that young Olav is somehow responsible. The investigation unveils a wealth of corruption within the fost home, including sordid affairs, fraud and larceny, just to name a few.

Meanwhile, Olav roams the streets alone, struggling to get back home to the mother. As the reader follows the investigation and Olav’s trek, his mother shares insight into his past and the mental illness that causes him to act with such malice and hatred. Starting at his birth, she knew something was wrong with her son.  It took her months to form any sort of bond with him, only when he was bordering on life and death did she have any feeling of love or nurturing toward him. Olav’s inappropriate behavior and poor social skills started when he was quite young, before entering school. This added detail about Olav’s character has the reader guessing, alongside Hanne, if this young boy is evil enough to have committed this horrendous crime.

While this is the third book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, Death of the Demon is well-suited as a stand-alone novel. Holt does a tremendous job of building up the characters, providing back-story as necessary. Her ability to build up and define each of the characters is so skilled that readers will find the most evil of characters sympathetic.

Holt’s critique and examination of the foster care system is quite enlightening. While she details a wide range of issues and faults with the foster home’s staff, she diminishes it by also noting the sheer amount of love and fondness they have for those in their care. The question remains, however: how much of what happens to those in the governments care can be blamed on inadequacies in the system and not on the individuals themselves?

What I found most remarkable about this novel was the twists and turns Holt takes her reader on, keeping one guessing until quite literally the last several pages of the book. While I can typically deduce the identity of the guilty party early on in a thriller, I found myself grasping at straw with this one. When all is revealed, I still found myself exclaiming “I KNEW IT” even though in fact I did not.

I have a feeling many may have issues with the ending but it is my opinion that it is one of the few plausible ways Holt could have conveyed the truth, without making it obviously apparent. It is Holt’s intent to keep her reader’s guessing, never trusting what is portrayed as the truth, even after the final pages have been turned.

Anne Holt is an Edgar Award nominated author and this novel just adds validity and proof of her sheer talent and skill. While her work is often compared to other Norwegian crime fiction greats, Holt can easily stand on her own as the queen of this subsection of crime fiction. Highly, highly recommended!

4 Comments to "Review: Death of the Demon by Anne Holt"

  1. Becky's Gravatar Becky
    Twitter: BeckyLeJeune
    June 19, 2013 - 10:11 AM | Permalink

    Have you read others by her, Jenn? I have 1222 and What Never Happens but haven’t read them yet.

  2. June 19, 2013 - 1:15 PM | Permalink

    I listened to her Blessed Are Those Who Thirst and really enjoyed it. I think this one’ll be next on my list.

  3. June 19, 2013 - 10:56 PM | Permalink

    I barely skimmed your review because I’m going to be reading this myself soon. I caught enough as I skimmed to know that you liked it and that makes me happy because I really liked the three I’ve read from this series so far

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