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Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: A crime beyond punishment

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We can never get back what we lost but neither can Breivik.

Now a second New Zealand family is grieving over the atrocities a fortnight ago in Oslo and on that idyllic island near the Norwegian capital.

Mrs Ida Marie Hill was leaving work when she was killed in a bomb blast. Just like that. Once again we can marvel at fate. Wrong place, wrong time and a life is taken.

Police say they're going to get tough with Anders Breivik, her killer. This would seem to be a reasonable thing to do.

Blow the hell out of a building in which hundreds are working then walk round an island shooting children and it's probably fair to expect someone is going to start talking tough to you.

They gave him a 10-hour grilling the other day. Hard to know what more you do to him. A few more 10-hour grillings doesn't seem enough.

That's the thing about this man's crime. Nothing you do will ever bring back those dead, loved young people. And those who miraculously survived will take years to recover.

Even hanging Breivik or putting him in front of a firing squad doesn't seem enough. Both seem too small a punishment. Locking him up for the rest of his life doesn't seem intense enough, either.

He'll sit there and brood upon his terrible genius, convinced he had to do what he did for the sake of Europe.

Mind you, he's not the only European to worry about Muslim immigration. He's not the only European to feel himself and his culture and his country and his way of life threatened by immigration from North Africa.

The truth is that Islam and the average way it presents itself in the street is imposing; to many it is threatening. The headscarf and the veil are intimidating and can indicate contempt for the country in which the immigrant has chosen to live.

There will be many in Europe who, while condemning what Breivik did as insanely cruel, will feel they know where the fellow was coming from. The French anti-veil law is all part of this. Sarkozy knew exactly what he was doing with that one. And of course, Breivik seemed to hate everything.

But how do you punish such a heinous crime as Breivik's? What satisfies us?

There is nothing good enough, I think. We just have to accept that we can never get back what we had and that his name is black.

He will certainly never again see the beauties of the first flowers of spring or the brilliant green on the trees of a Scandinavian summer.

* * * * *

Years ago I read a book by Airey Neave, who was blown up by an IRA bomb in December 1979 as he left the House of Commons carpark.

In 1945, Neave was a young British lawyer at Nuremberg for the trial of the senior Nazi leaders, Himmler, Hess, Goering, Hans Frank, Frick, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Donitz and so forth. Those given the death sentence were hanged in a row at Nuremberg prison at night in October 1946.

A standard drop was used, rather than a long drop. This meant they died more slowly. Goering beat them all and took cyanide the day before the executions. Speer and those others given long prison terms had to clean the floor beneath the hanged men. Neave claimed the bodies of the dead Nazis were taken to Dachau and incinerated there, and I always thought that was a perfectly just and poetic fate for the causing and conducting of a conflict in which about 40 million people died and millions were exterminated because of who they were.

Then more recently I read that the bodies were sent to the crematorium in Munich, which is not, I thought, as romantic, satisfying and complete as the Dachau option.

Speaking of reading, like most people I love a good thriller.

In fact, I recently finished a huge private project of intense mental effort and research, and at the moment I love nothing better than to tuck into a thriller. And like so many of us, I've discovered so much of the dark Scandinavian fiction which Stieg Larsson popularised.

And I've found Jo Nesbo. Don't know how, but I did. Jo Nesbo is the best. Jo is Norwegian and his books are based in Oslo and their central character is a brilliant, dysfunctional detective called Harry Hole.

When things get too much, Harry hits the bottle and disappears for days or weeks. Half his office would love to get rid of Harry. But then a big case comes along and Harry gets sober and proves to be the smartest cop in the Oslo crime unit. No one comes near Harry Hole for instinct and brains. Harry appears to have thin white hair, a pink face and white eyebrows and eye lashes but women seem to like Harry. Beautiful women. Harry is a deeply good man.

Then along comes this real life Norwegian massacre a fortnight ago. And half the time I'm hoping Harry is going to be leading the investigation. It's very confusing. I just hope a Harry Hole is talking to Breivik.

Anyway. You must read Jo Nesbo. All the books are absorbing and relentless but The Snowman and The Leopard are compulsory. Sorry, but you won't get any work done for days.

- NZ Herald

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