I recently picked up "What Is Mine," also known by the title "Punishment" by Norwegian author Anne Holt, the first book in her so-called Vik/Stubø series. This is a Scandinavian interpretation of the whole "profiler" craze that has dominated television and crime novels for the past decade. The story revolves around researcher and psychologist Johanne Vik and Oslo police detective Adam Stubø, and their attempts to apprehend the perpetrator of a series of child-murders. As a researcher, Vik is also involved in clearing the name of a suspect who was convicted of raping and murdering a child many decades ago.
The story is told from many perspectives: that of the murderer, whose chilling mission is slowly revealed through his sociopathic reactions; that of one of his captives, who witnesses a series of his victims pass through her dismal prison; that of the police detective, whose relationships with his workmates is far from ideal; and most importantly, that of the reluctant profiler Vik, who is unwillingly pulled deeper and deeper into the case as the killer's list of victims grows.
My reaction is mixed. I felt that the writer was capable of better writing, and I was expecting that a book which bore the blurb "The International Bestseller" would have been better than it turned out to be. On the one hand the plot and some of the characterization were first-rate. Also Holt's sense of setting was excellent - she spent much time as a journalist in the US Northeast and brings it to life, and she also describes Norway in a compelling way. But the book suffered from many distracting, often infuriating faults that I would scarcely expect from an author who already had 8 novels under her belt. Firstly, people's emotional reactions are portrayed as being somewhat perverse. This would not be a bad thing, but there is little character development supplied to help the reader understand the source of such odd reactions, such as the police detective wanting to embrace and kiss the corpse of one of the child victims. Another trait I found annoying was Holt's rather affected way of having one character start a conversation with another, without telling the reader who the other person is in the dialog until the next page. There were also many other needless distractions, like having a book group murmur with remorse over the manner of an author's suicide, which is then never revealed to the reader. Due to these and many other sins, either self-indulgent or immaturely crafted, the book comes off as average when it could have been brilliant.
Perhaps the most grievous defect is the length of the story arc in which the self-tortured Vik allows herself to be talked into helping Stubø. No ethical psychologist that I know would wait through three murders before agreeing to help stop the killing of defenseless children. Especially not one who, like Vik, is a mother. Holt is trying to show that her character has some internal demons that are holding her back, but since these are not dealt with other than by fleeting mention, it becomes very difficult to have any empathy in the reader's mind for Vik.
There is another title in this series in print, and apparently a translation of her third book coming out soon. I am on the fence about reading the next one. While there was a great deal of promise in this book, an author who is playing games with her readers after 8 novels is unlikely to change her ways.