Dahl, K O - 'The Man in the Window' (translated by Don Bartlett)
THE MAN IN THE WINDOW is the third in the Oslo detectives, Gunnarstranda and Frolich, series and is translated by Don Bartlett, who does such a fine job on the Jo Nesbo books.
In the freezing Norwegian capital city Reidar Folke Jespersen has a very busy Friday 13th January considering it was to be the last day of his life. The 79 year old grumpy old man left home without saying goodbye to his much younger wife Ingrid, went to a cafe and sat for several hours at a window table reading magazines and drinking coffee. From his table he had a good view of the block of apartments where his wife's young lover Eyolf Stromsted lived. He then went to a meeting with his two brothers Arvid and Emmanuel, and quarrelled over the proposed sale of their shop to a married couple, the Kirkenaers. The elderly Norwegian also phoned Stromsted's apartment interrupting the young man and Ingrid in bed, and then rearranged his assignation with the beautiful actress who acts out a fantasy based on Folke Jespersen's past. He however does not know that the actress, Gro Hege Wyller, is being watched by an infatuated taxi driver, whom she has rejected. Once again Folke Jespersen quarrels, this time with Jonny Stokmo, a business associate, and then has dinner with his son Karsten, daughter in law Suzanne, and grandchildren.
The next morning his naked body is found exposed in the shop window, a red string round his neck and the letters J195 written on his chest.
Oslo police detectives Gunnarstranda and Frolich begin a meticulous investigation of the murder, while struggling with complications in their personal lives. The older man Gunnarstranda is a widower hoping for success in a budding new relationship, while the younger Frank Frolich is rather more in demand by women.
This is my kind of crime fiction, a sharp gritty police procedural with numerous suspects introduced in the opening section, and the two detectives working their way through to a solution through a sea of red herrings. The expression red herring derives from the practice of using the pungent smell of dried smoked herring to teach hounds to follow a trail. Perhaps that is why Scandinavians, with their greater exposure to herrings, are so good at writing crime fiction.
While the introduction of the suspects owes something to the tradition of the English country house mystery, the spartan no nonsense style follows very much in the school of Sjowall and Wahloo, Henning Mankell, Arnaldur Indridason and fellow Norwegian Jo Nesbo. Good company indeed.
There are questions raised of love, loyalty, greed, guilt, desire, jealousy; in fact the whole gamut of human experience but in this case complicated by the problems of the past and the relationship of occupied to occupier. The Nazi occupation and the degrees of collaboration and resistance is a seemingly repetitive theme in Norwegian crime fiction.
Gunnarstanda and Frolich interrogate, in their different ways, family and other suspects, dissecting the life of Reidar Folke Jespersen and going back into his wartime activities. There are twists and turns, another murder, and eventually after a few more surprises all the loose ends are neatly tied up in this very fine example of the police procedural. I will certainly look out for more novels by K O Dahl, one of the ever growing group of excellent Nordic crime fiction authors available in English.
Norman Price, England