Dahl, K O - 'The Man in the Window' (translated by Don Bartlett)
I loved THE MAN IN THE WINDOW. Like its (chronological) predecessor, THE LAST FIX, it is a traditional detective story set in Oslo, Norway, with Inspector Gunnarstranda and his subordinate Frank Frolich investigating a crime. The opening chapters of the novel describe a day in the life of Reidar Folke Jespersen, an elderly antique dealer. He goes to work early in the morning, leaving his younger wife Ingrid at home. We learn about how he, as well as Ingrid and his son by his former wife, spend their day. There are several meetings, some amorous, some business, but all with a sinister edge, because it is Friday the 13th, and we feel certain something unpleasant is going to happen.
Sure enough, there is a murder, reported next morning to the police by a paper-delivery girl, who sees a body in the window of Jespersen's shop. Gunnarstranda and Frolich interrogate the family and other people known to the victim, but although they find out more about the details of the business, they seem to be getting nowhere in their investigation. At the same time, both men continue with the domestic concerns that preoccupied them in THE LAST FIX. Gunnarstranda is a grieving widower, but the woman whom he met in the earlier novel, Tove, resurfaces here and the two embark on a tentative (on his part) friendship. Frolich is stuck in an awful (but grimly funny) relationship with Eva-Britt, longing to escape, and maybe this time he will. I am not sure if he is the father of Eva-Britt's child, but if he is, he's the most detached fictional parent I have encountered.
Gradually, for lack of progress, Gunnarstranda drills down into the past, discovering with the aid of an academic historian quite a few unpalatable facts about the Second World War when Norway was under Nazi rule. I appreciated the education, and also that it was not too digressive while at the same time highly relevant to the plot. Gunnarstranda learns about Jespersen's role in those days, how he started his business, and much about why he is how he is now. I will write no more about that for fear of spoilers, but the whole mystery is satisfying and quite surprising in the end.
I did enjoy this novel very much indeed, not least because of the superb translation by Don Bartlett, which matches the author's literate outlook and dry wit perfectly. THE MAN IN THE WINDOW is a highly recommended read which has many aspects to enjoy, not least the author's instinctive grasp of pacing, which is brisk when necessary, yet does not skate over the emotional and personal impact of daily life and of darker elements that lurk beneath the surface of the face people present to the world.
Read another review of THE MAN IN THE WINDOW.
Maxine Clarke, England