The Man in the Window by K O Dahl

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The Man in the Window by K O Dahl

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The second Gunnarstranda and Frolich novel to be translated into English delivers a complex plot and excellent characters. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571232918

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A woman delivering newspapers discovered the body of Reidar Folke Jespersen. He was naked and his body was reclining in a chair in the window of his antiques shop in Oslo. He'd been stabbed but there was a red string round his neck and J195 had been written on his body in indelible ink. Inspector Gunnarstranda was first to the scene, closely followed by Frank Frolich. The case will prove demanding with a tangled web of relationships and a history of betrayal which goes right back to the Nazi occupation of Norway.

Ingrid had been married to Folke Jespersen for twenty five years and he was twenty five years older than her. For some time he had been impotent but Ingrid has a weekly tryst with an ex ballet student of hers. On what is to be the last day of his life Reidar sits in a café and watches his wife go into her lover's flat. He telephones, asks to speak to her and delivers an ultimatum.

At seventy nine he's perhaps a bit old to be working actively in the antiques trade and his brothers – both younger than him but not by very much – have been negotiating to sell the business which the three of them own. Arriving at a meeting to discuss this Reidar abruptly tells his brothers that there will be no sale, despite the fact that his son, who works in the shop, would like the opportunity to do something else with his life. Karsten has ambitions to be a writer.

Reidar had led an eventful life. In the war he was a member of the resistance and it was said that there was blood on his hands from that time, but he seemed to have an obsessive relationship with the wife of a prominent Nazi. At one point he was forced to escape over the border to Sweden. Do the long shadows from this time have anything to do with his death and who is the young woman who visits him each month?

I did enjoy this book. Gunnarstranda and Frolich are convincing investigators – men with slightly tangled lives and certainly not romantic heroes – but their private lives don't intrude on the plot but simply give flesh to the people. Reidar Folke Jespersen – in life and in death – dominates the book. He's not as bad as he first seemed nor as good as he might have been, but an elegant balance of both. I went from wondering how he'd managed to survive for so long when it looked as though there should be a queue of people wanting to kill him to a final cheer when his killer was unmasked.

Every character is compelling, sometimes sketched in with only a few words but always sufficient to form a vivid picture. One of the problems with trying to work out 'whodunit' was that I knew the good and the bad in each character, the strengths and the weaknesses. It was easy to rationalise, to excuse what they did. When the solution did come it was complex and certainly not what I expected. From a slightly slow start I reached a point where I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough.

The translation is by Don Bartlett and whilst I can't comment on how the book compares with the original I can say that it's easy to forget that you're reading a translation.

I came to Scandinavian crime via Henning Mankell, but I'm afraid that Kurt Wallander is beginning to look rather old hat these days. For more Norwegian crime fiction we can recommend Karin Fossum. Start with Don't Look Back and read everything you can get your hands on. We've also been impressed by Jo Nesbo.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of The Man in the Window to The Bookbag – I've enjoyed it enormously. I was interested when I read the first K O Dahl book to be published in English and I'm even more impressed now.

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