In this Norway-based mystery, Dahl gives other international crime writers a run for their money, a bonus for American readers who have been the recent beneficiaries of new translations of European writers since the immensely popular Stieg Larsson thriller series. Dahl holds his own in a literary thriller, a writer easily as comfortable with philosophical ruminations on love as the down-and-dirty details of murder.
About to reenter the world sober, Katrine Bratterud is on the cusp of a discovery, conscious of her attractiveness to the opposite sex. A troubled, drug-riddled youth behind her, Katrine is high on life and the immediate future, a female other women envy and men admire, either openly or covertly.
Katrine is vaguely uncomfortable at a party thrown by the directors of the facility, Annabeth As and her husband, Bjorn Gerhardsen - hypocritical paragons of virtue who preach sobriety but indulge in drunkenness to liberate themselves at social functions. Annabeth is secretly jealous and competitive as Bjorn takes advantage of his position on the board to make advances to the young woman who once serviced him on the streets as a prostitute. The tension at the party is exacerbated by the host couple’s behavior, Katrine suddenly ill and wanting to leave the scene of such forced merriment. She leaves the party early, as one group goes out clubbing, the stage set for murder. Katrine’s body is found the next day, carelessly discarded by her killer.
Enter Frolich and Gunnerstranda, the pair of detectives who bring a sweet and salty flavor to the novel and work their magic on a daunting number of potential suspects, from Katrine’s boyfriend to her occasional lover, to Annabeth’s husband and the former drug associate who intrudes on Katrine’s job and threatens her. The dour Gunnerstranda plays his role perfectly, a foil to the intense interviewing technique of Frolich, whose growing belly tricks people into underestimating his skills. Between the detectives, motives and personalities are sifted through complementary personalities and instincts.
Though this thriller is essentially a police procedural in format, the writing is not without subtlety and literary overtones, from the philosophical discussions between Katrine and her favorite lover the night of her death to the pervasive gloom of a senior facility where the elderly pass their final days. Gunnerstranda takes an avid interest in horticulture, comparing the cycle of healthy growth to the twisted pathways of criminality, while Frolich grapples with the inevitability of moving in with his long-term relationship and the changes such a move portends. Once these men are focused on solving Katrine’s murder, their success is assured, regardless of the duplicity of suspects.
Norway is officially on the map in crime fiction, Dahl already generating an American following to rival his contemporaries. The literary bent of his writing does much to lift his work from the usual, adding the flavor and particularity of Norway to the universality of criminal behavior. For all the predictable flaws of murderers and malcontents, Norway’s stunning landscape belies the attempts of humans to control or destroy one another’s lives. Gunnerstranda and Frolich are there to put everything in order, much as the elderly detective’s smoking irritates the younger’s sensibilities.