Review of ‘The Courier’ by Kjell Ola Dahl

Review of ‘The Courier’ by Kjell Ola Dahl

Last week was a very exciting one for me. Because… I got my first book post since starting my new blog! And it was particularly special for me, as the book was none other than The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and published by Orenda Books. I haven’t read anything by Dahl before (though I’m sure that will change!) but I knew as soon as I saw Orenda tweeting about it that this book was one for me. It’s translated, for one thing, and I’m a translator myself so that gets a lot of points. Furthermore, it’s translated by Don Bartlett, who has translated so many great Scandinavian authors from Nesbø to Knausgård, and who also gave a very encouraging talk to my MA class when I was studying literary translation. On top of that, it’s partially set during World War II (my MA dissertation was on Holocaust literature) and it also takes place in Scandinavia, which is a big draw for me (but you can read all about that over in another of my blog posts). Last but not least, it’s published by Orenda, which is a definite seal of approval in my eyes. Just follow them on Twitter and see how much they believe in their authors and their books and you’ll understand what I mean! (Also, read The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie Hedger. It’s a thing of beauty.)

Anyway, getting back to The Courier. This atmospheric crime novel has three narrative strands, with the action alternating between 1942, 1967 and 2015. In 1942, Ester is delivering illegal newspapers for the resistance in Oslo. She is Jewish, and when her entire family is arrested she has to escape to Stockholm, where she continues her resistance work. There she is reunited with Gerhard, another member of the resistance who has to escape Oslo after Åse – Ester’s friend and the mother of Gerhard’s child – is found dead in their flat. Gerhard insists he is innocent, but the suspicion that hangs over him has terrible consequences for Ester and the rest of the resistance, especially when Gerhard returns unexpectedly to Oslo in 1967 to find his old colleagues and set the record straight.

Dahl does a fantastic job of keeping the tension up as the narrative threads become increasingly intertwined and the truth begins to come out at last. The jumps in time feel extremely natural, as the characters are well developed both in physical appearance and the way they change (or don’t change) as people over the years. In this way, Dahl ensures that the narrative is never difficult to follow. In fact, the pace only picks up as the story goes on and becomes more and more gripping. By the end, I was sitting in a cafe (where I was supposed to be translating!), almost holding my breath as my coffee went cold beside me and I raced to the end of the book, unable to put it down without finding out how the story was resolved.

In short, this is a fantastic crime novel, excellently plotted and with plenty of action, intriguing characters and historical detail that really takes you on a journey to Oslo and Stockholm during the Second World War, the Cold War, and back to the present day. I highly recommend it to fans of Scandi crime and translated fiction – The Courier is another absolute triumph for Orenda, and one that I’m sure I’ll be coming back to read again in the future!

Thanks very much to Orenda Books for the proof! Available as an ebook now, The Courier will be out in paperback on 21 March 2019.

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