‘A seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity leads a PI and his ex-con assistant on a murderous trail, in a sophisticated, riveting, cunningly plotted historical thriller set in interwar and prohibition-era Norway.‘
– The Assistant
[ About the Book ]
War is in the air and Europe is in turmoil. Hitler’s Germany has occupied Austria and is threatening Czechoslovakia; there’s a civil war in Spain and Mussolini reigns in Italy.
When a woman turns up at the office of police-turned-private investigator Ludvig Paaske, he and his assistant – his one-time nemesis and former drug-smuggler Jack Rivers – begin a seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity.
But all is not what it seems, and when Jack is accused of murder, the trail leads back to the 1920s, to prohibition-era Norway, to the smugglers, sex workers and hoodlums of his criminal past … and an extraordinary secret.
[ My Review ]
The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl was just published May 20th with Orenda books and is described as ‘both a fascinating portrait of Oslo’s interwar years, with Nazis operating secretly on Norwegian soil and militant socialists readying workers for war, The Assistant is also a stunningly sophisticated, tension-packed thriller – the darkest of hard-boiled Nordic Noir – from one of Norway’s most acclaimed crime writers.’ Excellently translated by Don Bartlett, The Assistant provided an insight into Norway’s history that I was completely unaware of leading me down yet another historical rabbit-hole! Did you know that liquor and fortified wine were prohibited in Norway from approximately 1916 to 1927 leading to wholesale trafficking and smuggling across the borders? Did you know that Norwegians were criminalised if they took up arms against Franco during the Spanish Civil War? This is why I so love historical fiction and also why I love reading translated works. Reading really does open the mind to new worlds.
‘Dark, gritty and compulsive … feels like a classic of the genre’ – William Ryan
The Assistant spans two timelines, during the interwar years of post-1920s and pre-1939. In 1924, Jack Rivers is a smuggler for a transport company run by Arvid Bjerke. They have a good working relationship until Jack eventually gets imprisoned and Bjerke remains on the outside. Fast-forward to 1938 and Jack Rivers is now working as an assistant for a P.I., one Ludvig Paaske, an ex-cop who was involved with the original capture and incarceration of Rivers. They have an unusual relationship due to their past but it works until a woman shows up at the office looking for their help tracking her husband. She is suspicious of his activities and needs help in identifying his movements. Initially Paaske and Rivers are happy with taking on the new work but when Rivers recognises a face from the past, the case takes on a whole new dimension and Rivers finds himself in a fight for his innocence.
The Assistant gives the reader a real sense of what life was like during those years. As tensions were rising across Europe, the rise of communism and fascism were evident. The Spanish Civil War was raging and meetings were being held around Norway looking for support and action against the Norwegian government’s stance on policies. In the midst of all the political drama, Rivers is on the run with the shadow of an enigmatic woman a constant by his side.
Jack Rivers is a great character with a wonderfully convoluted history. He is far from perfect and is a bit of a lothario but his heart is in the right place and his fight for truth and justice is genuine. Ludvig Paaske, on the other hand, is more of a shady individual. Whereas Jack Rivers is an open book, Ludvig Paaske carries some dark secrets. As the status-quo shifts between the two, the truth slowly emerges and their relationship becomes very unstable.
The Assistant is an entertaining thriller, a good old-fashioned mystery that takes the reader right into the heart of Oslo during those very unstable years. This is 100% Noir. The dialogue, the shady characters, prohibition, murder, mystery and, of course, the suave and likeable Jack Rivers right in the centre. I’m hoping for Jack Rivers to be developed further as a character in a future series, a Norwegian Philip Marlowe so to speak, revealing the underbelly of Norway’s war years, pre-, post- and during. Very atmospheric. Very enjoyable!
[ Bio ]
One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers (Oslo Detectives series) featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.
Twitter – @ko_dahl