Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The Fourth Man

There seems currently to be no end to the influx of Scandinavian crime novels in translation and the latest that I’ve read is The Fourth Man. The author is K.O. Dahl, a new name as far as I’m concerned, and the translator – who, it seems to me, has done a good job – is Don Bartlett.

Dahl is touted as ‘Norway’s answer to Henning Mankell’ and the blurb compares this ‘hard-boiled psychological thriller’ to Hammett and Cain, which may be pushing things a bit too far. He sells very well in Europe and has won awards, and although I felt this book was something of a curate’s egg, I can see why Dahl has won such acclaim.

The Fourth Man features an Oslo cop, Detective Inspector Frank Frohlich, who becomes obsessed with a mysterious but highly desirable young woman called Elisabeth. The snag is that her brother Jonny is a gangster with a criminal record and it soons begins to look as though Elisabeth too has a dark side to her life. When she disappears from Frohlich’s life, the detective becomes embroiled in a complex criminal scheme. Someone wants him dead – but who, and why?

The plot is convoluted – something I usually enjoy, but I did find the central mystery less than absorbing, and foresaw the major twist a long way before the end. What appealed to me most about the book was Frohlich, and his relationship with his colleague Gunnarstranda. The scene in which Frohlich is nearly roasted alive in his own sauna was vivid and memorable, a good example of Dahl at his best. So, not a masterpiece, but certainly interesting and a bit different.

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