The Ice Swimmer, by Kjell Ola Dahl – book review

The Ice Swimmer AW.inddA short, trimmed-down review of a long, detailed tale. The Ice Swimmer is the latest in the Oslo Detective series that has given us Gunnarstranda and Frølich and, more recently, Lena. We met them once before here at Cafe thinking, and I’ve looked back at what I wrote about Faithless. I remember this being a tremendous read and one which required the utmost concentration. The Ice Swimmer is quite a different beast. It’s no less enjoyable, but you get into the action straight away (though there is a kind of prequel so we know that what may be suicide or murder is definitely the latter). And I found it demanded to be picked up and devoured, such was the appeal of its characters, themes, story and delivery. It is in my view more accessible than Faithless. Don Bartlett does a great job in translation.

As before, Kjell Ola Dahl gives us a taut adventure. Once again I question whether I would be cut out for the detective life. The pages drip with menace. There is always someone who is prepared to knock off one of our heroes, who can’t always trust the people immediately around them. An old cliché in crime writing is the grizzled detective with the troubled back story. Dahl does things differently: two of the detectives face major personal troubles in real time. The book is not unsympathetic and this gives us the chance to hear slightly waffly homilies from Gunnarstranda who attempts to be supportive in an affectionate but convoluted way. (The translation by Don Bartlett is fantastic, by the way.) Kjell Ola Dahl is interested in developing his characters and we see them reel, metaphorically as well as literally. (He also mentions that driving city metro trains – or indeed any kind of shift work – can have an equally devastating effect on your health as being a detective.) Watching the effects of the characters’ grapples with what life deals them – and the different paths they follow – is a major theme. The characters have quite different inner voices: Gunnerstranda does jazz, and muses on the annoyance of CDs that don’t need turning over half way through the play list; Lena chooses her favourite kebab shop but clings to Christmas ritual as a way of navigating her health problems. There’s a little bit about the difference between ideological and retail politics – but not very much considering that much of the plot has a political angle. This is strictly thriller as entertainment, not a study in the way people live. None the less, I enjoyed The Ice Swimmer. It was/is an ideal companion to the commute. And although I try to avoid the term ‘page-turner’ in my reviews, that’s precisely what The Ice Swimmer is.

Get The Ice Swimmer here.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy. Check out the blog tour for The Ice Swimmer:

ice swimmer blog poster 2018

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