Book review: Faithless, by Kjell Ola Dahl

28 08 2017

Kjell Ola Dahl is a Norwegian writer who, amongst other works, has written around a dozen crime novels featuring the Oslo detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda. His work (most of which, at this point, has not seen English translation) has won the Riverton Award and has been shortlisted for the Glass Key and Martin Beck awards.

Faithless

Faithless (Kvinnen i plast, 2010, translated by Don Bartlett) opens, in the small hours, with Detective Frank Frølich on stakeout outside the home of suspected underworld figure Kadir Zahid. When a woman, Veronika Undset, leaves Zahid’s residence in the early morning, Frølich decides to bring her in for questioning. Undset claims ignorance of any illegal activities in which Zahid might be involved, but a search of her handbag reveals a small quantity of cocaine concealed in an empty cigarette lighter. She’s issued a fine and released with a caution. A few days later, she’s found dead from a large number of stab wounds; her body also shows signs of postmortem exposure to boiling water, applied presumably for the removal of DNA evidence following a sexual assault. In the interval between her questioning and her death, Frølich has learnt that she’s the fiancée of his estranged friend Karl Anders Fransgård, whose alibi for the night of Undset’s death transpires to be unreliable …

Faithless is a busy, scrappy procedural with a complicated setup. (As if the Undset investigation weren’t enough, Frølich is also puzzling over the disappearance of an African summer student, last seen late one night in the company of an indie film director, while his colleague Lena is wondering just how far to push her relationship with an overly-aggressive police officer.) It’s interesting, aside from the ins and outs of the investigation per se, for its warts-and-all portrayal of the mindsets of the officers involved. I suspect it’s not the ideal introduction to the Frølich & Gunnarstranda series, since it occurs quite late in the sequence and may well rely on the reader’s prior understanding of the characters involved, but it’s deftly plotted and manages at several points to overturn the reader’s developing suspicions.

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