Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum

The Human Flies, published in the author's native Norway six years ago, was the first novel by Hans Olav Lahlum. He's a historian, chess player, - and politician: well, nobody's perfect! This book, published in the UK by Mantle, has made quite a splash, and is often described as a homage to Agatha Christie. It features a murder victim in a locked room, and is set in 1968, with plenty of references to events n the 1940s, making good use of Lahlum's historical expertise.

A famous hero of the Resistance is found dead in his apartment. It seems clear that one of his fellow residents must be guilty, and before long a variety of connections emerge between the victim and his neighbours. So we have a "closed circle" of suspects, and also references n the text to Christie and - more surprisingly, but not very significantly, to that American master of the short mystery story, Stanley Ellin.

We also have a detective duo in the classic mould, Kohljorn Kristiansen, a likeable detective inspector, narrates the story,but in effect he plays Dr Watson. The role of Sherlock goes to a wheelchair user called Pamela who is a brilliant sleuth and keeps giving him clues to the mystery when he's running out of ideas. This pair are very appealing, and I enjoyed the characterisation of them. Yet another pleasing nod to the classic mystery was a complex will - read with relish by a rather sadistic lawyer, if such a character can be imagined.

The first hundred pages or so were totally gripping, but I must admit that my enthusiasm faded a little as the story delved deeper into war-time events, and the classic plotting elements faded into the background to some extent. Overall, I felt the book would have benefited from cutting - as is so often the case - and I did feel that Karl Dickson's translation was clunky at times.. But there's a lot to enjoy here, and I'd be glad to read more about Pamela and "K2".

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