Written by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated by Don Bartlett — Despite the unabated passion for Scandinavian crime fiction, Norwegian author Kjell Ola Dahl is not quite such a household name as some of his compatriots. The translation of the seventh book in the Oslo Detectives series (the fifth to appear in English, after a six-year gap) may be about to change all that. This is good old-fashioned storytelling, without ever being stodgy. The kind of crime fiction you can lose yourself in, with well-rounded characters and well-placed clues.
Detective Frank Frolich is surprised when childhood friend Karl Anders, whom he hasn’t been in touch with for 20 years, invites him to his 40th birthday party. When he meets the beautiful fiancée, he realises that this is the young woman with whom he had a professional run-in earlier that day. It is possible she has some dodgy criminal connections, so Frolich is torn about warning his friend. A grisly murder occurs soon after and a woman’s body is found in a dumpster, burnt and wrapped in plastic. He fears he may be too involved in the situation at a personal level to be able to do his job properly.
At the same time, a young foreign student disappears into thin air. There is barely enough evidence or resources to pursue the matter, although Frolich is reluctant to let things go. Meanwhile, fellow detective Gunnarstranda is looking into a connection between the current murder and a cold case in northern Norway. There are enough similarities to suspect a serial killer but there are also some significant differences. Frolich begins to fear that something from his own past is rearing its ugly head, again.
If this sounds complex and confusing, fear not. The author does a good job of describing the conflicting priorities of a police force stretched thin with multiple cases. This is a detailed police procedural with realistic and humorous interaction between colleagues. In addition to the two main heroes – overly sensitive, almost brooding Frolich and solid, reliable but stubborn Gunnarstranda – you will also find notoriously lazy Emil and passionate Lena, the only woman on the team, who more than stands her ground, although her impulsiveness sometimes puts her in dangerous situations.
The emphasis is far more on clues and psychological reactions rather than non-stop action, so Faithless has a more relaxed, steadier pace, almost a throwback to earlier times. There are more similarities with Ruth Rendell‘s Inspector Wexford or Karin Fossum, rather than with the intensity of fellow countrymen Gunnar Staalesen or Jo Nesbo. The author even takes the time to describe Gunnarstranda tackling a bees’ nest on holiday, for example, or Frolich trying to make up his mind whether to go to his former friend’s birthday party. It can take a while to get into the story, but it will reward you if you are patient during the first few chapters.
This skilful blend of police procedural and psychological insight helps if you haven’t read any previous novels in the series too, as it gives you a feel for the main characters. Despite leaving out some of the context you’ll need, this volume works reasonably well as a standalone, although it does whet your appetite to find out more about this group of detectives.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars