Thursday 10 July 2008

A Wee Review - The Fourth Man by K O Dahl

The Fourth Man is the first book by the premier Norwegian crime writer, K O Dahl, to be translated into English. It is one of the Oslo Detective novels which centre on the cases of Detective Frølich and his boss, Detective Gunnarstranda. A quick google reveals that The Fourth Man is actually the fifth book of the series. This is quite often the case in series translations, but in this instance, reading out of order takes nothing away from the book. I experienced no confusion and had a very strong idea of each character, so I assume Dahl writes this series in standalone novels.

During a sting operation, Frank Frølich is forced to break his cover in order to rescue a civilian who has wandered on to the set up. In a dramatic turn of events, Frølich throws himself on the girl to protect her from harm. When the dust settles, the civilian, Elisabeth Faremo, introduces herself to Frølich, and so starts his troubles. When it comes to light that Elisabeth is the sister of known gangster Johnny Faremo, Frølich’s superior, Gunnarstranda, warns him that something is rotten in Denmark. Or Norway. And when Elisabeth uses Frølich’s name in court while providing her brother with an alibis, Frølich has his own doubts too. I don’t want to reveal any more, for fear of robbing the novel of some of its impact, but the story continues in this vein, twisting and turning towards an ending that threatens to destroy all that Frølich stands for.

I cracked open this attractive paperback with a tiny bit of apprehension. I have to confess that I have a slight prejudice against translated works. It seems to me that some of the nuances must be lost in, well, translation. But the opening chapter played out in such a beautifully noir style that all my doubts were banished immediately. In fact, I fell for Elisabeth Faremo myself during the opening, which only added to my emotional investment in the novel.

Frølich made for quite a good protagonist. Sure, there’s nothing hugely original about a disgruntled detective with a taste for booze and a maverick attitude towards procedure and authority. But his obsession with Elisabeth Faremo lent him a whole new dimension. And he was a bit of a hard nut too, which is always good.

Something that did bother me a little; there was no real humour in the book. Maybe I’m just used to the Northern Irish take on tragedy, but it seemed to me that every single character was in need of a good dose of anti-depressants. Though, in my opinion, that was the book's only real weakness. The plot was solid, with the standard red herrings and unexpected twists. A good cast kept things interesting. I felt like I learned a little about Norway. And I thought the ending was brilliantly played out.

So, The Fourth Man: Norwegian noir with a hard, world-weary edge. I look forward to more of the same. And I’ll have it, in the form of The Man at the Window, Dahl’s second English translation, and another Oslo Detectives tale.


Stuart Neville said...

I have it on good authority from an insider that Scandanavian crime fiction is The Next Big Thing. In fact, it may already be The Current Big Thing. The number of Norwegian novels currently being translated and finding their way onto the shelves at Tesco's and Sainsbury's seems to bear that out. According to my insider source, the market has had enough of American detectives plodding the mean streets of New York and LA, and indeed their British counterparts patrolling rainy London. The comparitively exotic settings of places like Oslo are casting the typical grizzled hard-drinking, tough-talking peeler ina new light.

Is this an indicator that Northern Irish crime fiction could make a similar emergence beyond our borders?

Speaking of Norwegian crime fic, I'm currently reading The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. Not bad at all so far.

Gerard Brennan said...

I'd say you're right there, Stuart. We're on the up and up. And why wouldn't we be? Sure aren't Belfast, Armagh and Warrenpoint among the most glitzy settings in the world?

And hard drinking? Pfft! Don't get us started!

Seriously, don't. Something will get broke.


Gerard Brennan said...

Oh, and Stuart, if you fancy putting down a few words on the Jo Nesbo, there's a spot for it on CSNI if it'd suit ya.