Death in Oslo is a special and very interesting crime fiction novel by Norwegian writer Anne Holt. It is a book where the author lets the first female US president, Helen Lardahl Bentley – a woman with Norwegian ancestors – be kidnapped by terrorists in Oslo.
Washington D. C., January 2005, Helen Lardahl Bentley takes the oath of office as the first female president of the United States. As the crowd cheers, President Bentley is thinking, “I got away with it . . . .”
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, businessman Abdallah al-Rahman is watching the inaugural event on television from his soundproof exercise room. To no one he says, “She actually thinks she got away with it!”
And in Oslo, Norway, watching the televised event, Hanne Wilhemsen speculates about the new president’s spotless past to her friend, former FBI profiler Johanne Vik, and muses, “But there’s always something . . . some little secret . . . .”
This is how Death in Oslo begins. Helen Lardahl Bentley beat George W. Bush. And she wants Norway to be the first country visits as President. Moreover, she wants to be there on the 17th of May – on the day when Norway celebrates its independence and first constitution. Both she and her advisors consider Norway to be one of the safest countries for her to visit.
But soon after she arrives, she disappears – is kidnapped – in the early hours of the morning of May 17th. This has never happened before – no American President has ever been kidnapped.
Death in Oslo is interesting for another reason as well. Followers of Anne Holt will know that she has written two series of crime fiction books. One of the series features the Norwegian police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen (this is the series I favor), and the other featuring the couple Johanne Vik (a profiler trained by the FBI) and her husband Adam Stubo, a detective in the Oslo police. However, in this book Anne Holt puts all her heroes in play! So, in a sense, this is a book where the two separate series intersect.
The disappearance of the President forces the Norwegian police, Secret Service and FBI to work together – not, of course, without friction and differences of opinion. Can the US President really just disappear into thin air? And it soon becomes clear that the Secret Service this time has overlooked several important factors while preparing the President’s stay. And far away, in a Middle Eastern country, a man knowing about a dark secret President Bentley has been protecting for decades, has been able to successfully exploit a weakness and carry out an unprecedented act of terrorism.
Working on several fronts and with huge resources, the progress in the investigation is very fast. Multiple leads are pursued. However, the leads go nowhere. The huge forces trying to locate her are left in total ignorance of the President’s whereabouts, as well as how and why she was kidnapped.
And then she is found, by an ex-prostitute now working as a governess in a posh house in Oslo hearing faint cries from a closed room in a dark basement. And this is where Holt’s two heroines enter the stage – the crippled, discrete and very smart Hanne Wilhelmsen and the well-trained Johanne Vik. Two women with secrets of their own trying as hard as they can to help another woman with a secret.
I enjoyed reading Death in Oslo. It is an interesting and in some ways remarkable book. The crime fiction plot rests on a couple of coincidences, but is actually quite good even so. And the writing is good, the story-telling very taut and quite convincing. Death in Oslo is a great read!