A seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity leads a PI and his ex-con assistant on a murderous trail, in a sophisticated, riveting historical Nordic Noir thriller set in interwar and prohibition-era Norway.
Oslo, 1938. 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.
Kjell Ola Dahl was a totally new author to me so I went in with an open mind, even though I was a little unsure about the type of novel it was. It turned out The Assistant is quite the varied type and it is everything you think – or hope – it might be. Nordic crime? Check! Spies and lots of action? Double check! An intriguing mystery delivered in a historical setting? Why yes that too!
The Assistant contains at first chapters shifting between 1924 and 1938, and ends in 1962, but it all starts in 1924 where Jack Rivers is a driver for a man called Arvid Bjerke. He not only transports passengers but is also a runman delivering illegal cans of liquor to village shops. In the very first pages Jack is actually trying to avoid being arrested as he tries to outwit ‘the cop from hell’ Ludvig Paaske in a breathtakingly dangerous scene. Twenty pages later though with a time jump to 1938 Paaske isn’t a cop anymore but a private investigator and Rivers is quite suddenly his sidekick. It is all quite matter of fact with no explanation what happened in between so that only intrigued me more to find out how they got from sworn enemies to allies.
Good teamwork is certainly necessary when a woman asks them to investigate her husband, only to bring danger on themselves as soon as they start trailing the husband. I was invested in this novel from the action-packed opening till the earth shattering ending. In between I followed a treacherous path of twists and red herrings. This is one of those novels that were it a movie you better not look away if you want to keep up with what’s happening. There’s robbery, betrayal, narrow escapes and plenty of action and two women as memorable characters, Julie – wife to Jack’s old employer Arvid – and Amalie who plays the part of Arvid’s mistress. Both women play a magnificent role in all of it but are also characters that will make you question their sincerity and motives. Is Amalie worth being Jack’s crush or is she playing games with him? What are Julie’s intentions towards Jack? Who to trust?
I have to admit that this was a somewhat challenging novel for me. I didn’t find the story as easy to read as the novels I finished in the weeks before with the writing style being more show than tell. I was often wondering what was going on and felt a little lost at times. I was also taken by surprise in the end that the novel suddenly went a very different direction than the route I had figured we were going. Without saying too much hopefully, I anticipated a full blown political/spy novel in the end with everything that had happened but I was way off track and shortly before the ending I became painfully aware of my mistake. My mouth nearly dropped open when I finally saw what we were dealing with! I really did enjoy the ending though which showed the true colours of all the characters. Overall I can conclude this is a great novel but I’m left in doubt that the style of writing makes this the right author for me.
I received a free paperback copy from the publisher Orenda Books to read. This is my honest opinion.