Gunnar Staalesen, Yours Until Death (Din, Til Døden, 1979, translated by Margaret Amassian, 1993)
Some crime novels don’t age well.
Too long ago for liking, I bought a boxset of all the Morse novels dirt cheap from a charity shop, and began reading them in order. I’d not seen more than one of the TV versions – ironically, when staying in Oxford with a friend who was busy working – and so all I knew was beer, crosswords, Jaguar, solving the crime having accused everyone else and dubious geography. I read about three, starting with the first, and paused when I decided I didn’t like the way Morse looked down the blouses of his interviewees.
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Jørn Lier Horst, Dregs (2010, Bunnfall, translated by Anne Bruce, 2011)
There’s a kind of detective work in coming to this, the fifth in the Wisting novels, after the television adaptation of books nine and eight of the sequence.
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Hans Olav Lahlum, Menneskefluene (Human Flies (2010))
Norway was neutral during the Second World War, but was invaded by Germany on 9 April 1940 and occupied by the Wehrmach until 8 May 1945. About a third of the Jewish population was deported to the camps in German, whilst others fled into exile. Some Norwegians signed up to fight for the Nazis — mostly on the Eastern front — but there was also a resistance movement. This left a bitter legacy for Norway, some of which formed back stories for the Harry Hole novels of Jo Nesbø, all of which I have now read.
So, whilst there are non-series novels to be read, I found a copy of Lahlum’s Human Flies, a locked-room mystery set in 1968. Harald Olesen, a hero of the resistance, is found shot dead in his flat in an apartment building, but no one has seen anybody leave his front door. It is up to Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen to investigate and the building is full of secrets — a former Nazi, an American ambassadorial official, people orphaned by the war, those having affairs… K2 (as the detective is known) is aided in this investigation by Patricia, a beautiful and intelligent woman confined to a wheelchair.
Lahlum is a historian by training and it turns out a relative (a great great aunt?) was Dagmar Lahlum, an Oslo member of the Norwegian resistance recruited by Eddie Chapman to work for MI5 — his exploits were recounted in several biographies, including Nicholas Booth’s Zigzag – The Incredible Wartime Exploits of Double Agent Eddie Chapman (2007) and Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman, Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy (2007). This clearly had an impact on the novel — of the relationship forged in the war and lost in peace time.
And yet I don’t think I can recommend this. I’ve not read enough Agatha Christie to make the comparison — but there’s a series of one-to-one interviews, a couple of points where the suspects are gathered together (“I suppose you are wondering why I gathered you all here together…”)… It, frankly, drags. The first person narration doesn’t help and the nods to historic events seem perfunctory. Perhaps in 1968 a policeman could work alone and share information with a civilian without trouble, but it’s a novel that feels set in the 1930s rather than the 1960s.