A recent spate of child kidnappings and murders is terrifying parents in Norway. So far, four children have been kidnapped, three returned to their parents, tiny corpses, cause of death impossible to determine. It is the attached notes that so disturb the police, particularly Inspector Stubo, in charge of the investigation: “You got what you deserved.” Only nine-year-old Emilie remains at large, no word of her at all, nor returned dead body.
Stubo senses that there is a connection between these children but cannot determine what that link might be despite all the resources at his command. He quickly realizes that he needs outside help of a more psychological nature but abhors the exploitative nature of the media, wary of whom to ask for help.
Viewing a television panel on the child kidnappings, Stubo’s attention is caught by Johanne Vik, a former FBI profiler currently at work on a cold case. Vik walks off the set of the talk show, outraged by the assumptions made by the other panelists. The inspector, impressed, decides she is the perfect foil to counterbalance the police procedures.
Unfortunately, Vik is not inclined to accept the request to aid in the investigation. She is currently working on a cold case that is absorbing all her energy, as well as sharing custody of her learning-disabled daughter with her ex-husband; the time spent with her daughter is intensive and requires all her skills as a mother.
Johanne resists Adam’s overtures when he all but demands her help in unraveling this case, but Stubo is unperturbed, showing up at Vik’s residence and gradually drawing her into the mystery. As the two confer over each missing child, they discern a pattern, albeit an obscure one. Both refuse to believe that Emilie is dead, holding out hope for this one unaccounted-for child.
As investigators and on a personal level, Vik and Stubo are an interesting pair, essentially strangers thrown together with a desperate need to stop the killer before more children are lost. And Vik’s cold case of an unfairly convicted man may have more relevance to the matters at hand than appears, unexpected links between the past and present atrocities.
The mix of characters is unconventional, distraught parents, Vik herself, an obsessive murderer and a copycat, all with complex motives and personal flaws, revealing one man’s misspent passions and the associations of all those involved in the children’s lives.
As Vik and Stubo race to a finish with fate, Norwegian society is transfixed with horror, repeatedly assaulted by the heinous crimes, one tiny girl barely clinging to life. Anne Holt is no threat to the immensely popular Karin Fossum; nonetheless she pens a satisfying tale of crime and punishment, the most vulnerable victims the most heartbreaking of all.