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What Never Happens Hardcover – February 13, 2008
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The author has taken the police detective/researcher team of the last book and married them, bestowing upon them an infant and a dedicated family life, as well as a tight emotional bond that is frequently tested by the nefarious deeds it is their lot to unravel. Briefly put, the ghosts of profiler Vik's past return to haunt her as an ongoing series of celebrity murders seem to emulate a very specific group of cases she studied at the FBI Academy when she lived in the United States. The logical outcome points directly at her and her new husband as being the final victims in this gory reconstruction. The killer in this case is a hardened professional, who is literally paid to kill - but in what way she has committed her previous murders, and how she gets paid is a twist that is strikingly original for a novel like this, and makes an ironic connection to the unholy lure of the TV crime commentator's instant celebrity.
In short, I was impressed as well as relieved to know that the off-taste of the first book had been largely left behind, though there were still a few false notes. Vik's daughter from her first marriage is developmentally disabled - as a fictional character, an autistic or mentally retarded person's speech is one of the hardest things to capture convincingly, and I felt that Holt still has far to go on that path. There were also some unnecessary histrionics - I can't believe that a police detective would interrupt his profiler wife's attempt to finish the sentence "The murderer has decided to kill because he -" with an unrelated emotional outburst. And maybe it's a Norwegian literary thing, this habit of not identifying the other person in a conversation for two pages, leaving the reader wonder who the hell the detective is talking to? I can't say, I've never read another modern Norwegian author. Whether it is or not, it is damn distracting and frankly idiotic to force the reader to interrupt the flow of reading to skip ahead to see what's going on. But otherwise, it was a very satisfying read, and elevated Holt closer to the heights of the finest of Scandinavian crime fiction writers such as Henning Mankell and the team of Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö. She could be on a par with them if she had their discipline.
First, the two protagonists are not very likeable characters, especially the wife Johanne. They both keep interrupting one another in their conversations, which makes the dialogue often very jarring and disjointed.
Second, the author often writes what the characters are thinking, but it appears as if it were dialogue because their thoughts are always in quotation marks and sound like someone speaking, because they are articulated in complete sentences. This is, at best, a questionable literary device and, at worst, distracting.
Third, the nine-year-old daughter who has an undiagnosed psychological/developmental problem is another irritating distraction from the flow of the novel. Nothing is resolved about her. She's simply a peculiar, unpredictable interference.
Adam Stubo is a homicide detective and his wife, Vik, a retired profiler. They have an infant daughter together, and Vik's 10-year-old girl, Kristiane, is from a prior marriage. Kristiane has a behavioral disorder that doesn't fit neatly into any particular diagnosis. Stubo provides a nice balance, being almost unflappable from a domestic standpoint. However, he is obsessed with police work and finds it difficult to leave his cases in his office desk drawer. Vik, for her part, hates being described as a profiler, even if it's what she does. The two somehow make their personal and quasi-professional relationships work, if not always well.
Which brings us to WHAT NEVER HAPPENS, in which Stubo is brought in to investigate a series of bizarre murders. The victims are all celebrities and theatrically posed. A talk show hostess is found with her tongue cut out, mutilated and lovingly arranged; the head of a political party is crucified, with a copy of the Koran inserted in her nether regions; and an acerbic literary and political critic is bludgeoned and stabbed in the eye. There are absolutely no clues, and any connections that Stubo can make among the slain only confuses matters.
What is most interesting is that Vik --- distractions of motherhood notwithstanding --- realizes that the murders are hauntingly familiar to her. This forces her to confront an incident in her past that is her greatest secret, one she keeps even from Stubo. Ironically, it is this secret that ultimately holds the key to his murder investigation. Even more ironic, however, is that Stubo, once he gets a solid suspect, finds that he has inadvertently established the suspect's innocence --- even as he becomes certain that this individual is the murderer.
While the conclusion of WHAT NEVER HAPPENS is not a cliffhanger, Holt does leave the reader hanging and wondering what's next.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
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All the characters, major and minor, are interesting. Not all are likable, but all have depth.Read more