Title: What is Mine (a.k.a Punishment)
Author: Anne Holt
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing [originally published 2001, this translation 2006]
In present day Norway a nine-year-old girl has disappeared, presumed kidnapped, then a younger boy disappears and his body is found soon afterwards. There’s a sinister note found with the body but no one is sure if the boy’s disappearance is related to the girl’s. The police inspector in charge of the case, Adam Stubo, seeks help in solving the cases from Joahnne Vik: a lawyer and psychologist. Johanne is reluctant to get involved for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact she is, at the same time, becoming intrigued by an older case. Many years ago a man called Aksel Seier was sent to prison for raping and killing a young girl but was released a few years later under odd circumstances and Johanne is looking into the case on behalf of an ageing lawyer who never believed Seier was guilty.
Thinking about it now this was quite a complex story but it never felt like it while reading it as all the components were drawn together well. Even though there were two quite separate threads for a majority of the book I never found either difficult to follow. I found it quite fascinating to read about horrid events unfolding in a place where such things are rare as there was a noticeable difference in the language used and the reactions ascribed to the various players than would be the case if the book had been set in the US. The ending to the story was a bit disappointing though because it relied too much on a string of coincidences and left a couple of things completely unresolved. These elements (which I can’t be more specific abouot without giving away spoilers) appear to have been forgotten about rather than deliberately left to the reader’s imagination but I could be wrong about that. Either way it was a little annoying to be left in the dark.
The characterisations were generally good although I did tire a bit of the relationship between Johanne and Adam which was a ‘should we sleep together or not’ kind of thing. I just wanted them to either get on with it or shut up about it and found it difficult to imagine two grown adults with no ties would behave as immaturely as they did (surely one of them could have been a grown-up). However there were many other elements to both of their characters which were much more satisfying to watch develop and there were a string of minor characters who were also thoughtfully and artfully depicted. Emilie, the first child to be kidnapped in the story, made me weep.
This book had a high degree of what I like to call unputdownability (i.e. it made me late for work) and, overall, the annoyances were forgivable. I can’t help thinking I’ll be remembering some of these characters for a long while yet which is always the sign of a good read.
My rating 3.5/5
For the record I think the American title, What is Mine, gets to the heart of what the book is about slightly better than the UK title which is Punishment.