home     authors     titles     dates     links     about


29 june 2020

In Norwegian, Kjell Ola Dahl's 2010 crime novel Faithless is called Kvinnen i plast, "Woman in Plastic." A common if disturbing way of encountering women in police procedurals: dead, wrapped up, and stuffed in dumpsters. Frank Frølich, ace Oslo detective, is especially disturbed to find this particular wrapped woman, because he'd just been getting to know her. In fact, he'd busted her for cocaine possession – only to learn shortly afterwards that she was the fiancée of one of his childhood friends.

In another plotline, Frølich catches the case of a visiting African student who has disappeared from her dorm after just a couple of nights in Norway. The obvious suspects are right in front of him, but he can only develop probable cause (or whatever the Norwegian equivalent may be) by combing through security video and cell-tower records. This procedural aspect elicits a veteran get-off-my-lawn response from Frølich's superior Gunnarstranda, but technology is an inevitable part of policing in 2010. Or always was, as Frølich points out: it's just that the technology keeps changing, and the newer stuff always feels unnatural and uncoplike.

Faithless is a fairly late entry in the Frølich/Gunnarstranda series. In fact it's the seventh of eight, if the Norsk Bokmål Wikipedia page on Dahl is accurate, so there are likely conventions and in-jokes I'm not getting, as a newcomer starting as always in the wrong spot. Faithless is not the most seamlessly even of novels. There are jarring clashes of tone and swings from technical minutiae to high melodrama. But many of the scenes are well-done, and the overall suspense level is pretty high.

As so often in Scandinavian detective fiction, our protagonists are depressed, alcoholic, tormented by failures in family life. As increasingly in the 21st century, this includes the women on the team: here, Lena Stigersand, who is as impulsive, reckless, and eaten-at as any man on the Nordic forces.

I found my copy of Faithless in Little Rock, before the pandemic, when I was looking forward to being in Oslo … right about now. I guess for the next little while, I will have to make do with fictional proxies for the real Scandinavia. After all, that worked for me long before I ever went to the real place.

Dahl, Kjell Ola. Faithless. [Kvinnen i plast, 2010.] Translated by Don Bartlett. London: Orenda, 2017.