#RivetingReviews: Max Easterman reviews LITTLE DRUMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl

This is the eighth in the Oslo Detectives series, translated into English by the expert and always readable Don Bartlett and, as with the others, it never fails to both grip and surprise the reader. The eponymous detectives, Frølich and Gunnarstranda, are initially faced with a drugs overdose, when a girl is discovered dead in her car in an underground car park. She’s found by Lisa Fagernes, a journalist late for an interview and on the verge of a panic attack, brought on not just by the sight of the body: it’s the last straw for her claustrophobia. ‘The feeling of panic … finally had the upper hand … she gasped … then, as if in a dream, set off at a run between the rows of cars, terrified …’.  But Fagernes is, after all, a journalist and, panic over, she phones for a photographer. 

Meanwhile, the police doctor’s verdict of accidental death somehow doesn’t ring true with Gunnarstranda, who is suspicious because there’s no ID on the body and the victim is clearly not one of the usual druggie suspects from the usual haunts. Well aware of the ire its cost will bring down on his head from his superiors, he nonetheless commissions an autopsy. It soon becomes clear he was right: it’s murder. And when it further emerges that the victim was not a known drug-user and had a boyfriend (from Kenya) who has mysteriously vanished, Gunnarstranda and Frølich find themselves drawn down a truly labyrinthine trail involving international pharmaceutical deals and much more. 

Meanwhile, the journalist, Lisa Fagernes, has been tasked with following up on the story and pesters the detectives for details they’d rather not divulge. Frølich in particular becomes the object of her attention – and women are his weakness: 

‘She wasn’t exactly attractive, but he liked the way her top lip curved, and the mole on the left of her mouth … she had wound him around her finger … [he] had allowed himself to be charmed by a mole and a glimpse of a navel.’  

As the possible identity of the probable killer becomes clearer, Frølich is despatched to Kenya to follow the trail of the boyfriend – closely pursued by Fagernes, determined to get her scoop. They eventually agree to pool their resources and they soon begin to unveil a network of corruption and exploitation that lies behind the demise of the woman in the car back in Oslo. And it’s not just about pharmaceuticals. As Frølich watches a woman selling fish-bones, his translator explains: 

‘She says the fish meat is eaten by fat Europeans like you. She can’t afford that kind of food. She has been to the rubbish heap outside the factory … to feed her children on soup made from the bones she found there. They starve on the banks of a fish-rich lake.’  

As so often, there’s money and power at stake and all three investigators soon realise they are in real danger.

The days of Nordic Noir thrillers being played out only on Nordic home soil seem long past, as indeed are the days of murders being purely local affairs. The roman policier is now truly global, exploring the criminal conspiracies that take advantage of our inter-connected world. Kjell Ola Dahl remains a master of the fine detail and research required to spin a believable international story – in whatever country it is located. This is a novel by a writer at the top of his game.

Reviewed by Max Easterman

LITTLE DRUMMER

by Kjell Ola Dahl

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett

Published by Orenda Books (May 2022)

July 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Max Easterman is a journalist – he spent 35 years as a senior broadcaster with the BBC – university lecturer, translator, media trainer with ‘Sounds Right’, jazz musician and writer.


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