Påskekrim or Easter Crime is the most exciting thing about Easter customs in Norway. Of course, chocolate bunnies and very special Sunday meal are always important, but going away to hytte / cabin in the woods, by the coast or in the mountains with selection of excellent reading material tops everything. For the fans of crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers or any detective or police procedurals, films or TV series, this is a time to indulge in this particular passion. Especially as the tradition says so. A common view is that the tradition of Easter Crime is based on a very successful advertising campaign for the crime novel written by Jonathan Jerv alias two young students Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie. The book was launched spectacularly in the country’s biggest newspaper Aftenposten on Saturday 24 March 1923, the day before Palm Sunday, with a seemingly real headline at the top of the first page. The words ‘The train to Bergen plundered last night’ were in fact a title, rather than a real news item. The rest is a history, or an incredible interpretation of the fact that reading during holidays can be so enjoyable. Easter does not have to be the theme though.
In the spirit of påskekrim I would like to recommend the latest work from the Norwegian masters Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst who together wrote Smoke Screen / Røykteppe, a second novel in the Blix and Ramm series. It was published in February 2021 by Orenda Books so still fresh in the English-speaking sphere, and set in winter: dark, cold and bleak, just like the minds of some of its characters.
The duo behind the series are well known for their own distinctive works and appreciated by many international readers. Combining their ideas, skills and stylistical outlook on the writing process bring quite a unique set of fictional events that come to life on the pages. Those who are familiar with Henning Juul and William Wisting will recognise some themes and aspects of Enger’s and Lier Horst’s (respectively) fictional history in their common venture. This is undoubtedly a huge appeal of Smoke Screen which could be read a stand-alone as it mentions earlier experiences from Death Deserved which are brought to our attention. However, I don’t think it would do justice to the main protagonists: police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger turned serious journalist Emma Ramm as their complex relation was brilliantly portrayed and explained in the first book.
This time they happen to be at the busiest open space in Oslo on New Year’s Eve when the annual firework celebrations attract crowds of locals and tourists. But the sudden bomb explosion rocks the city. Unfortunately, Emma’s Danish boyfriend Kasper is one of the casualties. Blix pulls a severely injured survivor from the icy waters in the harbour, a woman whom police identify as Ruth-Kristine Smeplass, the mother of two-year-old Patricia who was kidnapped on her way home from kindergarten ten years earlier. The girl was never found yet just hours before the explosion a current photo of her was delivered to the prison where her father Christer Storm Isaksen serves long sentence. Circumstances of the broken family devastated by disappearance of a small girl have been grim, with anger, despair and personal issues never leaving the separated parents; the unsolved case weighing heavily on Blix.
The investigation into the bombing takes priority, especially with terrorism being the indication for this action. Yet Blix feels that Ruth-Kristine somehow must be linked to what has happened. He gets the reluctant permission from his superiors to follow the cold trail, focusing on the mother notorious for drug taking and having a mess of a life, whilst trying to comb through details from the original search of Patricia’s kidnapper, and dealing with another death. Although he strives to keep all information confidential, Emma is able to deduct what’s happening in the police team, and follows own leads into the mother who might indeed be the key to the events. On top of that she struggles with personal tragedy, grieving for a boyfriend yet pushing herself to think as a relentless reporter. Respectful and serious relationship between Blix and Emma steers the narration and adds authenticity to the multifaceted themes, including connection to past crimes, private grief and assumptions of vague (for some) Scandinavian perfection.
Kudos to Megan Turney for superb translation of this tense, gripping and ultimately sad tale of human psyche and consequences of actions that impact on various innocent people. The authors created a faultlessly balanced police procedural with human drama at its core. Påskekrim at its best.