The Last Fix is a very enjoyable, if ultimately sad, police procedural set in Oslo, Norway. Katrine, a young woman who works part-time in a travel agent, is attacked by a customer demanding money. Shaken by this event, Katrine’s older colleague, Elise, makes the girl admit that the attack had something to do with her past. The events and mystery of Katrine’s past are the driving force of what follows.
The next day, a group of social workers and other colleagues at a drug rehabilitation centre have a party. Many of the staff are late-middle-aged Norwegians who tended to socialist radicalism as students, now leading comfortable if boring lifestyles. After a horrible murder occurs, not described directly but which the reader realises later in the novel was truly nasty, the Oslo police dissect the lives of this rather smug group.
It is the police detectives who form one of the many joys of this novel. One of them is tall, thin Gunnarstranda, with his comb-over, his private grief, his goldfish and his acerbic relationship with his immediate deputy Frolich. Frolich is solid physically and torn between his sensuous relationship with his girlfriend and his loyalty for his job. Frolich often grumbles and is resentful at Gunnarstranda, but the older man is a strong mentor to the younger, patiently and wordlessly leading Frolich to make deductions that he, Gunnarstranda, has already worked out. The other detectives appear only fleetingly but one of them in particular has a lovely cameo in which he tells a hilarious story – strangely convincing even though impossible – about his experience once in catching a pike and taking it home for tea.
The framework of the novel is a staple classic of crime-fiction: there is a group of witnesses and possible suspects; the police interview them all and try to reconstruct the crime and hence find out who was responsible for a particularly cruel murder. In parallel, under the surface, the story is replete with acutely presented social commentary and insight. Broadly, there are two main elements to the investigation: the victim’s current lifestyle and associates; and the group of older people, at least one or more of whom must have figured in the past. Revelations come from within both elements which lead to an eventual solution, but the truth only emerges when the past is fully uncovered and the police can make the complete deduction.
In common with the best of crime fiction, this novel is much to do with false perceptions and the author’s ability, aided and abetted by translator supreme, Don Bartlett, to throw the reader off the track, both directly and via letting the reader draw the wrong conclusion from what some of the witnesses say or think. Re-reading the first chapter of the book near the end, when the visit to the travel agent’s is retold from another point of view, is one of many examples in which it can be seen how the police, other characters and the reader can be fooled into making the wrong assumption. The very title of the novel also falls into this category.
I highly recommend this absorbing novel. A review is too brief a space to touch on all the aspects of it that I liked, but there is lots of black humour and observational philosophy in the interplay between the police, and a genuine, deep humanity in the initially sparse but gradually fleshed-out tale of the central character.
The publisher (Faber) is not very helpful in first, publishing this series out of order (in translation); and second in not providing a chronological list of the titles in the front of the book. The Last Fix is the most recent to be published in English, but in fact is second in the series as a whole. The other two that have been translated so far are The Man in the Window (no 3) and The Fourth Man (no 5).
I am so glad that I’ve finally read a novel by K. O. Dahl. What took me so long? I don’t know, something to do with the strange order of English translations, I think. But now that I have addressed the situation, I can confidently write that The Last Fix is easily as good as one of the Kurt Wallander novels of Henning Mankell (Sweden), and has much in common with them.
K.O. Dahl at Euro Crime (link to author's website in Norwegian, and list of translated books in chronological reading order)
A sneek peek of The Last Fix (opening paragraphs) is available at Euro Crime blog.
Other reviews of The Last Fix: Nordic Bookblog; The Independent (Barry Forshaw); and at International Noir Fiction (thoughtful and insightful review by Glenn Harper, as usual).
Interview with the author at Scene of the Crime blog.