Monday, May 26, 2008
New from Norway: K.O. Dahl's The Man in the Window
I wasn't sure why K.O.Dahl's "Oslo Detectives" or "Frølich & Gunnarstranda" novels were called that after reading the first one, The Fourth Man, which emphasized Frølich and his personal involvement with those involved in the crime, much more than his superior officer Gunnarstranda. But the second novel translated into English, The Man in the Window, balances their roles in the story, with a slight emphasis on Gunnarstranda this time. The Man in the Window is fairly long and complicated, much more so than The Fourth Man, and also more of a mystery (as Norman Price of the Crime Scraps blog reported in his Eurocrime review of The Man in the Window, the novel shares some structural devices with the cozy or country house mystery). Both detectives are experiencing some complications in their private lives (Frølich is doubting his commitment to his girlfriend and lusting after someone else, Gunnarstranda is mourning his deceased wife and beginning to revive his love life), but neither is personally involved in the crime at hand or the principals who are involved. Each of them has his own personality quirks and his own investigative style, and their conversation is a key element in the story. The novel begins by following the events of a January, Friday the 13th in the lives of a soon-to-be-deceased patriarch of a family in the antiques business and several others involved in his death in some way (his adulterous wife, a taxi driver, an actress, and several others. The facts withheld in these early passages seem less artificially withheld than I feared they might (the surprises in the later parts of the novel are effective in the police-procedural manner--there's no expectation in the procedural, as opposed to the Agatha-Christie sort of mystery, where the reader expects to have the clues to the puzzle from the beginning. Dahl, after the opening chapters, lets the reader follow Frølich and Gunnarstranda as they individually and together struggle to make sense of the murder and collect information about the various family members and others who surround the crime. The narrative is concerned with the revelation of the personalities of various characters as much as events or investigation, always (after the opening passages) through the two detectives' eyes. The methodical, even plodding, investigation is a specialty of the Scandinavian crime novel (as Norman Price also points out) from Sjöwall and Wahlöö forward to most of the Scandinavian novels in translation today. But Dahl's novel is perhaps more methodical than, say, the novels of Jo Nesbø, whose works (as so far translated) have something of the quality of the thriller, mixed with the procedural: Nesbø's Harry Hole is involved in (and threatened by) the criminals and events and subplots in ways unlike Dahl's cops (or those of Sjöwall and Wahlöö for that matter), giving them a forward propulsion largely missing in The Man in the Window--another factor that gives this book a quality of the puzzle mystery, moving forward only as the facts of the case become clear to the police (rather than bursting abruptly into the view of the character and the reader). As much as I admire Nesbø, I also enjoy immensely the stricly procedural approach that Dahl manipulates with much skill. The Man in the Window also has a lot of humor (not so characteristic of the Scandinavian crime novel), in the conversation between the two detectives and elsewhere in the novel: a verbal and situational comedy much appreciated by this reader within a long and complex investigation. All in all, my only complaint is that it's too hard to get Dahl's books in the U.S. promptly after the translations become available.