A serial killer is on the loose, abducting and murdering children in a way that confounds the police, before returning the child's body to the mother with a desperately cruel note: You Got What You Deserved.
The first of the Johanne Vik & Adam Stubø books, PUNISHMENT, is now available in paperback locally. An excellent crime fiction series by Norwegian author Anne Holt, this has been a series that could be (well had to be) read out of order. Now there's something compelling about being able to go back to the start, and work your way through.
Originally read by this reviewer back in 2007, when it was newly translated, PUNISHMENT is the novel that introduces an unusual investigative (ultimately personal) coupling of academic and former FBI profiler Johanne Vik and Detective Inspector Adam Stubø of the Oslo police.
As summarised in my earlier review:
"When 9 year old Emilie goes missing her father is worried but not frantic. She'd done this once before just after her mother died. This time, they don't find her. When a little boy disappears and ultimately is returned to his parents; dead, no obvious cause of death, and a handwritten note: You Got What You Deserved; Oslo starts to worry.
Police Superintendent Adam Stubø, working the case, turns to former FBI profiler Johanne Vik for help. Johanne is already looking into the conviction of Aksel Seier for the rape and murder of a young child many years ago. An old lady really wants to know if Seier was guilty or not. Johanne is not confident that she can help Adam, but he is increasingly desperate for any sort of lead that the Police can get. He and his team make very little progress and they soon have 3 abducted children, two dead and a chance that Emilie is still alive."
The focus of this novel moves between Oslo and that current case of a child killer, and the US and the cold case of Aksel Seier. The two central characters are each, in their own way, obsessed with their respective cases, and the complications that they bring. An odd message from the killer in the current day case, and a dying woman who wants the truth to be found before it's too late for her - and a man who has lived with the consequences of a child killing many years before. Woven into the story of these children and all of their dreadful deaths and the consequences of them, is the story of Vik's own daughter, who is intellectually disabled, and Stubø's own loss of his wife and daughter. Whilst there's no romantic attachment in this initial book, readers of subsequent novels in the series will know that something builds between these two main characters, as their professional involvement increases.
My main quibble at the time still stands - there is a tendency to concentrate on building the central characters quite a bit in PUNISHMENT. If we'd have been lucky enough to read this series translated in order then right from the start it was obvious there were plans for these two, and this initial novel is laying a lot of ground work. Which is a minor quibble in the overall scheme of things - possibly only noticeable because of the round about way in which we got a chance to read the series. Vik and Stubø are a great pairing though, and re-reading PUNISHMENT was an opportunity to remind myself of what a great series this is.