Faithless, by Kjell Ola Dahl – book review

51suUy6U4aL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t think I’d make a very good detective. My senses would be on overtime, trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. A few days into a case and I’d be a complete wreck.

At times Faithless makes me wonder whether I’m a very good reader. There’s so much on every page that it takes me ages to make progress. (That’s a compliment.) There are detailed descriptions and astute metaphors that characterise Oslo life – together with digressions into terrible TV celebrities and the best version of Fly Me to the Moon. Dahl’s books have been compared with the legendary Beck series and for a while I’m not sure whether that rich style of storytelling really successfully travels from an analogue age. It isn’t that I can’t feel the quality of the writing (via Don Bartlett’s translation), but I fear that it will take me all year to finish, so many, so well-observed and so detailed are the asides that distract me and send me down various trains of thought. Eventually I realise that this is not a book for the evening commute (my normal time to read) but on the other hand it is ideal for when you can really immerse yourself in the world that Dahl presents. Those of you with summer holidays to come should add it to your list.

Faithless is the latest in an award-winning series – Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back screams the back cover – but I didn’t know they’d been away. I don’t feel left out not to have read the previous instalments, and that’s because Dahl (as you’ll have guessed from the above) gives us continuous insight into what they are really all about. Often, in a police procedural, the ‘personality’ of a protagonist is described only in terms of a rickety home life or an unhappy previous relationship. The three main police leads (Gunnarstranda, Frølich and their colleague Lena) do grapple with poor romantic choices but also conflicts of interest and in one case a real, rather than confected, blast from the past. In Faithless, you’re with fully-rounded characters, not only during the moments of high action but also during the mundane moments of a stakeout, organising stationery, choosing a film to watch or staring at a simple artefact that does turn out to be a major clue after all. Plus you learn what it’s like to be bitten by an ant when sneaking up on the bad guys. This is enjoyable. 

Something else that’s quite appealing about this writing style is that the violent set pieces – and they are violent – are, despite being detailed, no more detailed than any other part of the story. This has the effect of dialling down the significance of the violence and dialling up moments of tension, of anticipation, of emotional impact. The pace of the chase gradually quickens but Dahl is adept at changing circumstances as he weaves the two main plots, with their different rhythms, throughout the novel. That’s quite realistic and though we know, as readers, we are being manipulated a little, the different layers lead to a more satisfying experience. On the other hand, one thing that irritated me slightly was that from time to time we’d be well into a chapter before knowing whom Dahl was describing. That’s when manipulation crosses a line.

This is one for when you’ve got the time to shut off other stimuli and lose yourself both in the plot and in the nooks and eddies of everyday criminal life.

Get it here.

During the Faithless book tour, author Kjell Ola Dahl took part in our Secret Library feature – check it out here.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy. 

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