Book review: Lethal Investments by K O Dahl

Lethal Investments
by K O Dahl
translated by Don Bartlett
Faber&Faber 2011 (first published in Norway 1993).

Finally, 18 years after initial publication, English-language customers are able to read the first of K O Dahl’s Oslo detective series. I have previously read the three other novels in this series (so far numbering eight) that have been translated, in reverse order to that in which they were written. (Dahl is not the only Nordic author to suffer this fate.) I highly recommend these books to those who like classic police procedurals, as it is now possible to read the first four books in the right order, which is preferable to the way I read them, given that one of the themes is the relationship between the older, balding, small Gunnarstranda and his junior, taller colleague Frank Frolich. In Lethal Investments, Frolich does not think much of Gunnarstranda at the start, but as this book, and future volumes, pan out, the relationship between the men changes. We also follow the tracks of their personal lives, as Gunnarstranda mourns the death of wife (which took place four years before Lethal Investments opens) and Frolich begins a relationship with commune-liver Eva-Britt – a relationship with plenty of ups and downs.

But the main plots of these novels concern in each case a crime, with all the details of Gunnarstranda’s and Frolich’s investigation, along the way providing nuggets of information about Norwegian lifestyles and attitudes. Lethal Investments begins with the death of a young woman, Reidun Rosendal, after she’s spent the night in her apartment with a young man. Did he murder her before he left in the morning, or did someone else commit the deed later? The detectives start by interviewing the neighbours, including a repellent old man who lives across the street who spied on the lovely Reidun, and continue by talking to Reidun’s colleagues where she worked at a company called Software Partners.

The first two-thirds of the book is quite slow, as Gunnarstranda and Frolich follow up different leads which we see filtered through each man’s prejudices and perceptions. I enjoyed encountering the different (mostly non-admirable) people whom the detectives interview, the gritty, honestly up-front social mosaic that is built up as the book progresses, as well as all the rude, cynical byplay between the two main characters – beautifully conveyed by Don Bartlett’s typically naturalistic and smooth translation. The latter part of the book moves the action on when two more murders occur – which, together with a coincidence or two and a dash of intuition in Gunnarstranda’s case, allow the cops to home in on the evidence they need to support their hypothesis about the crime. I found it quite easy to work out what was going on and who was behind the crimes, but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this classic crime novel.

I purchased my copy of this book. I am pleased that finally the UK publisher has improved the cover design! (Not brilliant, but better than the design of the previous three books published in English.)

Read other reviews of this novel: the Guardian (Cathi Unsworth), Simon Clarke and Bookgeeks,

Reading order of the Oslo detectives series.

Don Bartlett’s website.

My reviews of The Last Fix and The Man in the Window, and the Euro Crime review of The Fourth Man (Karen Meek).

Wikipedia entry on K. O. Dahl and his books.