The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

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The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A forensically-evoked setting is unfortunately too much in the foreground of this twisty tale of post-war intrigue. Worth considering.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 276 Date: March 2019
Publisher: Orenda Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781912374434

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Nazi-occupied Oslo, 1942. There, I've given the game away. For in a book that centres around a murder, I've told you who did it – the Nazis, surely? Well, that certainly has to remain to be seen in this volume, which splits its time between one of war, when a young woman sees her father arrested, and their store condemned as Jewish, and rushes to her best friend to help – not knowing she will never see her alive again, and the late 1960s, when great consternation is being felt. In this timeline, a maverick agent is back in town, one who might have been fingered for murdering that female victim, even though she and he lived together with their baby as a young family, except he was thought by all to have died in the War…

However, any plot here is almost secondary to the style. The author uses present tense. He loves his clipped sentences. The sentences more often or not have only one clause. Regularly without articles. Oh, and he loves his place-names and other details, so much so that we see every movement, every action, every car journey and tram stop itemised in full. This will certainly put some off, as will the structure of the book, which doggedly switches from the 1940s to the 1960s as often as is legitimately possible, if not more – and I've not even mentioned the modern-day aspect to the story, either.

The style then is a very visual one – anybody trying to direct this for TV or cinema almost has a full storyboard already – which helps with the mood and the flavour of the times featured and of the piece of fiction itself. But I couldn't help feeling that any director would have an extra job on his hands – one of cutting some woolliness. This isn't the longest thriller out, and I feel a snarky one for complaining of too much depth and detail, considering some other genre authors, but I felt we could have concentrated more on the plots and a little less on the mise-en-scene. When we finally get a handle on what had been going on and on what is now going on, we have some wonderful scenes of subterfuge, home invasion and foggy graveyards. The premise of this unreadable returnee with his intentions – which are what, again – revenge on the murderer, revenge on his past masters, reformation of his family? - is a really strong one, after all.

So I would come down on the fence of this being a good book, but perhaps not one for me. I didn't dislike the jumpiness, for it was other aspects of the story that had me scratching my head at times. I certainly regretted the way the narration luxuriated in place-names and the urban décor. But at the same time I found a book that did a lot of surprising things. It really underplayed the whole Jewish aspect of things (reading it on Holocaust Memorial Day, it didn't exactly serve as tribute); it showed that Scandinavian countries can also validly have crime books that portray the collective fall-out and guilt of Nazi presence, which I've not had the option to read before now; and it gave us, deep under its blanket-like forensic wrapping a premise that was most compelling. But this reader, while commending many aspects, would wish for a slightly different outcome.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

We were a little more impressed by Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

WWII leaves a little shadow looming over the likes of Greeks Bearing Gifts: Bernie Gunther Thriller 13 by Philip Kerr, as well.

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