Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl (tr. by Don Bartlett) #BookReview #BlogTour

The Oslo Detectives are back in another slice of gripping, dark Nordic Noir, and their new colleague has more at stake than she’s prepared to reveal…

Oslo detective Frølich searches for the mysterious sister of a young female asylum seeker, but when people start to die, everything points to an old case and a series of events that someone will do anything to hide…

Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death. Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…

A dark, chilling and up-to-the-minute Nordic Noir thriller, Sister is also a tense and well-plotted murder mystery with a moving tragedy at its heart, cementing Kjell Ola Dahl as one of the greatest crime writers of our generation.

I'm so pleased to be sharing my review of Sister today. Many thanks to Kjell Ola Dahl, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

After last year's historical spy thriller, The Courier, Kjell Ola Dahl returns to his Oslo Detectives series with Sister, a story which is rooted in the some of the pressing social challenges affecting many countries besides just Norway. Having loved the previous novel, The Ice Swimmer, I was really looking forward to reading Sister; although a long-running series, each can be easily enjoyed as standalones so newcomers needn't be concerned about beginning here.
The book has a rather romantic opening when Frank Frølich, working on a routine case as a private investigator, meets a woman, Matilde in a café with whom he has an instant rapport. They embark on a relationship but when she asks him to help a friend, he finds himself immersed in a complicated investigation which results in him being at odds with his former colleagues in the police force, including his old partner Gunnarstranda. He reluctantly agrees to try to locate Sheyma, the older sister of a young asylum seeker, Aisha but knowing how many families have become fragmented through immigration and fearing the worst may have occurred to a female refugee who reportedly travelled alone means he is doesn't expect to be able to provide any good news - particularly as Aisha's refugee status has been denied and she is due to be deported imminently.
With very little to go on, other than a photograph, Frølich is surprised when a possible small breakthrough brings an unexpected lead to his door. Fredrik Andersen is a writer whose latest book is about immigration and people smuggling but rather than providing information as to Sheyma's whereabouts, he warns the detective off then surprises him with an offer of his own. This becomes a recurring occurrence throughout the book and it's fascinating to see how Frølich becomes torn by the various requests placed upon him.
What begins as a likely hopeless missing person case becomes much more sinister when the death toll begins to rise and as well as the links to illegal immigration, Frank also finds himself looking into an old tragedy involving a ferry which caught fire killing over a hundred passengers on board. There is some significant criticism of the police here, Kjell Ola Dahl certainly doesn't hold back when it comes to examining the times where they are at fault; their harsh treatment of asylum seekers, their reluctance or refusal to look beyond the simple explanation into a death and perhaps most damningly, there is a suggestion of corruption due to their willingness to protect certain groups above others.
Frølich is such an intriguing character and I was constantly riveted by his story. He is working as as a private investigator after being suspended from the police but I can't help but wonder whether he will decide he prefers being on the outside having been exposed to the institutional darkness within. He realises that the police, politicians and press are intrinsically connected and though they may claim to hold one another to account, the truth is murkier and they actually conspire to protect one another to maintain the staus quo.
Although some of the subject matter is typically bleak,  the Norwegian summer setting lends a lighter feel to the novel, especially in many of the scenes with Matilde and there are some lovely touches of humour - including an awkward conversation Frank has with a very candid gynaecologist...  Far from detracting from the serious topics, this lightness ensures the contrast with darker sides of society seems all the more shocking. Frølich is a very human detective; he is a tenacious investigator who becomes progressively preoccupied with uncovering the truth but he doesn't eagerly put himself into dangerous situations and indeed his terror is almost palpable at times. Sister is uncomfortably convincing and a large part of that comes from the very real man at the heart of the story - he is entirely believable and so it follows that what he discovers also becomes only too credible.
With writing this compelling it really isn't surprising to know that Kjell Ola Dahl is considered one of the godfathers of Nordic Noir; the complex, skilfully crafted narrative piercingly explores contemporary social issues and as always praise should also go to Don Bartlett's excellent translation. Sister is gripping, immersive storytelling of highest calibre, I thoroughly recommend it.

Sister is published by Orenda Books, it is available now as an ebook and in paperback from 29th April 2020. In these difficult times, Karen Sullivan has announced an initiative to help book buyers and independent book stores by offering to post out any Orenda titles that the shops don't have in stock directly to customers , so do try to purchase from one of our wonderful independent shops if you can. Alternatively buy the ebook directly from Orenda's website or from Hive who are currently doubling the commission they give to independent bookstores. More purchasing links can also be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers (Oslo Detectives series) featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

About the Translator

Don Bartlett completed an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in 2000 and has since worked with a wide variety of Danish and Norwegian authors, including Jo Nesbø and Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum series: We Shall Inherit the Wind, Wolves in the Dark and the Petrona award-winning Where Roses Never Die. He also translated Faithless, the previous book in Kjell Ola Dahl’s Oslo Detective series for Orenda Books. He lives with his family in a village in Norfolk.


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