As I began to become familiar with the story, I had a sense that the strong social context would be a separate character in a way it is, as so much of the protagonists’ personalities is shaped by their upbringing and the current situation. The introduction to Everything Is Mine brought Anne Holt to my mind, a formidable writer whose outlook is similar, and about whom Val McDermid once said that she ‘is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.’ Indeed, several chapters later Holt is mentioned as an example of what unpredictable fate can bring for a minister: ‘Minister of Justice Anne Holt got sick and retired to write crime novels.’ Although Ruth Lillegraven’s focus is also on the social injustice, her individual writing style is in a league of its own, and adds new voice to the NN genre, driven by strong narration and detailed observations that creates both drama and authenticity in the lives unravelling before our eyes.
Clara and Henrik lead busy professional lives, committed to their causes and believing in their work. They are dedicated caring parents to their twin boys, and good members of the community. That’s what obvious to everyone. However, behind the successful façade of a well-off family settled in an affluent part of Oslo, many issues remain unsaid, hidden, secret and on the verge of exploding. That emotional eruption will happen and both feel that it’s unavoidable at some point in the future. It is triggered by simultaneous events. Clara is a single-mindedly ambitious child rights activist at the Ministry of Justice. Her work on the new bill, huge amount of effort, research and lobbying comes to a halt when the proposal is shelved. The bill’s aim was ‘to ensure that all employees of all public institutions feel a stringer sense of responsibility for sounding the alarm in the event of any suspicion of violence or abuse.’
Henrik’s world gets shaken when a small Pakistani Norwegian boy is admitted to Ullevål Hospital (where he works as a paediatrician), dies in his care, and clearly is a victim of abuse. The boy’s father behaved in a threatening manner, and enough signs show that violence was dominating element of the family’s existence. Soon a body of a man was discovered on the grounds of the hospital, connecting this crime to the boy’s death, and more killings are happening in the city.
As the couple deals with the upheaval, we learn more about things they had wanted to keep buried for a variety of reasons. Clara has always felt like an outsider in the capital, having grown up on a farm in western Norway and knowing everything about nature, fjords, animals, and hard physical work. She never mentions her mother, still mourns her little brother, and always relies on her father. She is an unshakeable tower of strength. On the other hand, Henrik has lived a relatively easy urban sophisticated life and inherited a beautiful villa which is their home now, and was the first person in the family of lawyers that went into medicine. They are not the same : ‘Henrik likes to call me the ice queen. He cries at the drop of a hat. I haven’t cried since that day thirty ears ago.’
Everything is Mine ( Bookshop.org Amazon), translated by Diane Oatley, brings together important issues and thrilling action, and very smart complex plot. This thoroughly gripping intelligent thriller made a huge impression on me as Lillegraven effortlessly takes the readers through unexpected twists and surprises, and asks questions about the motives of every character. And those are varied and plentiful. I especially enjoyed the contrast between what we think we know about the modern Scandinavian society and values, and what might be concealed underneath choices that are made when facing very difficult situations. Clara, Henrik and their colleagues feel a sense of responsibility and sense of injustice at various degrees. They want to make a difference or they just want to survive. In the aftermath of crimes of neglect, and following the police investigation into related murders, suspecting Henrik and unsettling Clara, Lillegraven makes a strong point of how and if people can deal with injustice. Backdrop of stunning nature and the welfare state are not always what it seems…