Translated by Megan Turney — Oslo’s New Year’s Eve festivities are disrupted by a terrorist attack. The climactic fireworks display is interrupted by an explosion. A bomb, hidden in a rubbish bin at the riverside, has been remotely triggered; luckily most of the force of the explosion is directed out over the water, but there are still several fatalities. Detective Alexander Blix, on duty with his partner Kovic that evening, responds to the call for help, and finds himself in the river bringing an unconscious woman to the shore. Her bank card identifies her as Ruth-Kristine Smeplass, who was both a victim and a suspect in a pivotal crime in Blix’s detective career.
Emma Ramm was also at the celebrations. Ramm is a journalist for an online news outlet, and is hoping that the night will represent not just a new year for her but also a break from the past. Last year she was the target of a serial killer. While Blix was able to solve the case and the two of them became friends in the process, the emotional scars remain. Ramm’s hopes for a restorative evening are ruined by the bombing and subsequent discovery that her Danish boyfriend, Kasper Bjerringbo, is one of the victims.
Blix and Kovic are seconded to the anti-terrorism taskforce, but Blix is struck by the coincidence of Smeplass being at the crime scene. CCTV footage has identified a lone male placing the bomb in the bin a few minutes before the explosion, and Blix can’t help speculating that the terrorism angle is a deliberate ruse, and that this was an attack directly aimed at Smeplass. Ten years ago, Smeplass reported the abduction of her daughter Patricia, and Blix was the lead detective. Smeplass has a history of mental health difficulties and drug addiction, and when she split with her husband, Christer Storm Isaksen, he had been given custody of Patricia. Both parents were suspects in Patricia’s disappearance, but the case was never solved. To compound the tragedy, Isaksen was later found guilty of murdering a witness who came forward with information pertaining to the abduction after Isaksen offered a reward.
It’s a messy history but Blix begins by digging in to Smeplass’ activity in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. Her boyfriend tells him that she had travelled in secret to Denmark, returned with a large some of money that she couldn’t explain having, and had then gone out of contact. Her only close friend, Nina, has also disappeared.
Ramm, meanwhile, wants to keep busy to stop her thinking too much about Kasper. She saw Blix recovering the unconscious woman from the river and persuades him to reveal her identity. When she finds out about Blix’s previous involvement with Smeplass, she resolves to dig deeper into the past to write an article about her.
Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are two well established Norwegian crime writers with successful series of their own. Smoke Screen is the second novel in the Blix and Ramm series after last year’s Death Deserved, which was their first collaboration. The two protagonists shared history is skilfully recapped here, and new readers to the series need be put off by not having read the first novel.
It is a proficient mainstream thriller, working in familiar Nordic noir territory. In Blix we see an echo of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander – a middle-aged man suffused with loneliness and regret and trying to connect with his younger daughter. The dramatic, violent twists bring to mind Jo Nesbo, a little. However, Horst and Enger for the most part avoid the excesses of those authors.
Smeplass is key to the mystery, and as Blix and Ramm investigate her life independently from different angles, they once again find themselves side by side in peril. The mystery of the bombing and of Patricia’s disappearance a decade ago were both solved to my satisfaction in an enjoyable novel where the clever plotting always kept me engaged.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars