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on March 20, 2008
One of the latest trends in mystery writing is the Scandinavian mystery series. We all remember (or some of us, who are old enough, do) the series by Maj Sjovall and Per Wahloo from back in the seventies, but since there have only been a couple of writers. Lately, though, it seems every second book in the mystery section comes from the frozen North. This current book, by Norwegian mystery writer K.O. Dahl, is apparently rather typical.

Dahl is a competent writer, though his plot is a bit far-fetched. His main character, Frank Frolich, becomes involved with a witness to a violent arrest in Oslo, and soon is having a torrid affair with her. But she acts very strangely, and after a while this becomes a problem. It soon develops that she's related to a gang of criminals who are robbing Norwegian businesses, and that she used to date one of the gang. Then she vanishes, and Frolich, now under some suspicion from his colleagues, must discover what happened and what her connection to the criminal gang is.

This is a reasonably good book. Foreign detective novels like this almost always, to me, have a dated feel to them, with the main character resembling Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade with a strange accent. In spite of that (or perhaps because of it) I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
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on October 13, 2008
A prefatory note to the UK paperback edition of this book informs the reader that Mr Dahl's first novel was published in 1993 but that it was not until this 2007 effort that his work was translated into English.It is set in Oslo ,the capital of Norway and its protagonist is a police officer Detective Frank Frolich ,who becomes obsessed with a woman he meets while operating a police surveillance .She is Elisabeth Faremo and they soon become bedfellows .What she neglects to tell him is that her brother ,Johnny Faremo is a career criminal with a prison record .When an armed robbery at a warehouse goes wrong and a part time security guard killed by one of the robbers an anonymous tipoff implicates Johnny Faremo and some of his known associates.Elisabeth alibis him however and questions are raised withinn the Police department about Frolich's wisdom in maintaining the relationship with the sister of a known felon.Soon she disappears and her brother is murdered .It also emerges that she is in another relationship -a gay affair with a university lecturerer ,reidun Vestli.
The -literally -key to the whole mystery is a safe deposit box key which holds the secret of a stolen Bellini painting and financial fraud involving a prominent businessman ,Narvesen .Before the case is brought to its bitter sweet conclusion Frolich must contend with two attempts on his life , a suicide and further deaths .

Frolich is a rather dull figure and altogether more interesting is his boss,the taciturn and wry Gunnarstranda The atmosphere of a windy ,wet and freezing Oslo is evocatively done and the seamy side of the city-its lap dancing clubs and seedier bars-is thoroughly trawled .Its an engrossing tale but a bit overplotted and the ending ,in which the plot stands are unwound comes across as old fashioned and plodding..However as a study in obsession and greed this is pretty well done even if somwhat cold and unemotional.

It is a good change of pace for those wanting a break from Anglophone crime writing
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Due to all the hype lately about the Scandinavian mystery writers, I've been reading some of their books (no, I'm not talking about Stieg Larsson). This book, "The Fourth Man", is one that I would recommend skipping if you're on the same quest. It might ultimately be a good book, but you have to wade through so much chaff at the beginning that the trip does not seem worth the journey. I made it through the first few chapters before I said enough and put the book down.

Frank Froelich is apparently a detective for the Oslo police department; I'm not quite clear about that, since correct police procedure seems to take a back seat in this story. At the beginning of the book, in the middle of some sort of grocery shop sting operation (poorly written - the positioning and movement of the characters doesn't quite make sense), and our hero saves a mysterious woman who in the confusion of the shooting attempts to steal cigarettes. He's taken with her blue eyes, can't get her out of his mind, yet when he runs into her in a cafe he gets away from her ASAP because his instinct is telling him there's something hinky about this contact. But, she follows him via various public transports, to his neighborhood and home. Instead of this raising about six hundred warning flags in his brain, he lets her into his home and beds her. Then he sexually obsesses about her; she texts him and he comes running and they tryst in a roadside stop. He tries to resist; she stalks him. He comes home from work, finding her naked in his house; she had stolen one of his house keys when she was last there. He is upset by it - so he beds her again.

Maybe it's because I'm female that I can't understand his obsession with this woman, but I don't think so. I think it's just one of those books that tries to be so edgy that it manages to fall off the cliff of good storytelling. The characters speak in cryptic utterances, there seems to be no connection between the policeman and police procedure, and for the life of me I can't fathom why the woman is viewed as interesting, much less sexually alluring - even taking into account individual tastes. I also didn't get any sense of "place" in the story; perhaps the location references might make sense to Norwegian readers, but I wasn't given enough information by the author to tell if they were buildings, stores, or streets. I didn't expect footnotes, but there are ways of giving readers clues - especially if you're hoping to court readers outside your own country.

When you feel as though reading is a chore instead of a delight, you know it's time to put down the book and walk away. Maybe this book improves, maybe the rest of the books in the series are better, but I'll never know because I'm not going to bother to read them.
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Oslo detective Frank Frølich runs into a young woman at the scene of a police raid -- literally runs into her, pinning her under his body to protect her from the crossfire. Her name is Elisabeth Faremo. Some days later, he encounters her again and becomes fascinated by her contradictory air of mystery and availability. Against his better judgement, he starts an affair with her, but when he is called out to a murder possibly involving Elisabeth's brother, he finds himself in a difficult position, with his career on the line and as a suspect in his own right.

It is a powerful premise, and Dahl develops it into a complex mystery involving an increasing number of characters from the Oslo demi monde, echoes of a past crime, the lure of big money, and the ever-present scent of sex, both sapphic and straight. As the body count increases, including many potential suspects, the story seems to be heading towards a dead end, but Dahl threads a labyrinth involving a number of different locations: a reservoir East of Oslo, a house in an exclusive neighborhood overlooking the city, and weekend cottages in the central Norwegian mountains. Of particular interest is the relationship between Frølich and his superior, Gunnarstranda, a grizzled detective who forces him to go on leave to avoid further implication, but continues to involve him unofficially; it is a very neat reversal of the normal detective-story paradigm of sleuth and sidekick. Dahl will bring this twisting tale home with a good deal of skill at the end, although not everything is solved to my entire satisfaction, and some of the links in the chain of evidence seem altogether too flimsy.

My main criticism is not that the story is so convoluted, but that it loses sight of its original premise. Neither of the elements that I mention in my first paragraph -- the sexual obsession and the threat to Frølich himself -- is fully realized: Elisabeth does not appear anything like as enthralling as Frank sees her, and the ambivalence of his own position largely peters out. The question that is immediately posed by Gunnarstranda -- has Frank been deliberately set up? -- quite soon becomes irrelevant, and while it resurfaces again at the end, it is really too long after the original events for the solution to be entirely satisfactory.

The translation by Don Bartlett is perfectly adequate, although it is clearly written for the British market, and contains some oddities (presumably reflecting the original Norwegian) such as continually referring to the protagonist by both names, Frank Frølich. The edition has two very nice maps, of Norway and Oslo, except that they do not really help with the things we really need to know. And there is one element towards the end of the book that, if you are a lover of fine art or simply respect our cultural heritage, will turn your stomach. So an absorbing read, but ultimately flawed. [3.3 stars]
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on September 14, 2013
I like Dahl's ability to construct a good story, with the use of plot twists and red herrings in these tales of Oslo, Norway police detectives. I read the later story - The Last Fix - first, and thought it was better in its character development, but that could be because I read it out of order. I would suggest reading all the books in order of publication to appreciate the way the author adds layers to the characters. But I read foreign mystery writers most of all to get insight into their cultures. For this, Dahl delivers well. From his spare descriptions of the climate, the culture, the difficulties of murder investigations with inadequate staffing, and the cities of Norway, I feel as though I have traveled there myself. I can compare Dahl to other favorites of mine, such as Chandler and Simenon. I plan to read further books about Froehlich an Gunnarstranda as I locate them secondhand.
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on February 9, 2011
This book breaks all the necessary rules of a well written crime fiction novel. The story wanders with no real center and then gives us a climax that is not justified by all the reading we have done before. Is this what the author thinks we are looking for in a book? Really??

Brian Oldham
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on February 12, 2010
A well written and imaginative story. Sometimes confusing for an old lady like me but never gave up. More sex and emotional factors than any other Scandinavian police procedural, not really so necessary but didn't detract from the overall story. Perhaps to attract American readers. Back cover 'blurb' compares Dahl to Henning Mankell - no one can write like Mankell.
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on September 6, 2011
A serviceable but dull police procedural from Norway. A slowwitted homicide detective is dazzled by a femme fatale in a standard noir plot; robbery, murder and arson follow in quick succession. His own boss has to tell him to open his eyes and shape up! Of the Scandinavian mystery writers I've read, I prefer Jo Nesbo.
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on April 2, 2011
Ahh, I have another author to put on my list of favorites. A very good mystery coupled with a desperate romance. I enjoyed this book even with the love angle.
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on December 24, 2011
Scandinavian writers are slowly taking over the genre usually reserved for their British and American counterparts.The reason for that is very simple. Their writing is fresh and original. Nordic countries even seem to appear exotic and different than the rest of the Western world.
K O Dahl firmly belongs in this genre. His hero is a normal, flesh and blood policeman, with fears and passions, strenghts and limitations. He is just another man looking for love, and being blind and innocent in the process.Scandinavian policeman do not suffer from the Superman complex that seems to plague a lot of American cops. They usually seem almost stunned and sad with the state of the world we inhabit. It doesn't stop them from fighting, just makes more real and way more human.
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