cover image The Assistant

The Assistant

Kjell Ola Dahl, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Orenda (IPG, dist.),

This atmospheric, intricately plotted standalone from Dahl (the Oslo Detectives series) cuts between Kristiana (the old name for Oslo) in 1924 and Oslo in 1938. In 1924 Kristiana, Jack Rivers ferries bootlegged liquor for smuggler Arvid Bjerke, who’s having an affair with a flirtatious, opportunistic woman named Amalie Iversen. Policeman Ludvig Paaske arrests Jack. Fast forward to 1938. Paaske, now a private investigator, is hired by a German, Vera Gruber, to find out whether her husband, Bernhard, is cheating on her—and Jack, surprisingly, is working for Paaske as the assistant of the title. Jack tails Bernhard and discovers that Vera is actually Amalie, who isn’t connected to Bernhard at all but is in league with German military officers. When Jack confronts Vera/Amaie, she drops the case, but he realizes that a lot more is going on than mere infidelity. The tension grows as Nazi Germany’s presence in Oslo becomes more palpable and sinister. Jack’s arrest for murder raises the stakes. Dahl does a good job depicting Norway’s experience of the run-up to WWII, but the overly long backstory slows the pace. Fans of historical suspense who prefer nuance to action will be rewarded. (Oct.)