K2 and Patricia

The Human Flies
Satellite People

Hans Olav Lahlum

translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
Pan Books 2014, Mantle 2015
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016 http://dannyreviews.com/
Set in Oslo in 1968 and 1969, The Human Flies and Satellite People are modern takes (published in Norway in 2010 and 2011) on the classic English murder mystery, with a relatively small number of characters in a restricted social setting. Their protagonist and narrator is inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen (K2), who is backed up by a wheelchair-bound prodigy, a young woman Patricia who acts as a kind of Holmes figure, providing him with oracular guidance.

The setting in The Human Flies is an Oslo apartment block, where a wartime resistance hero is shot dead in such a way that only the other six residents and the caretaker are suspects. In Satellite People magnate Magdalon Schelderup is poisoned at one of his regular Sunday suppers and the suspects are the ten guests, mostly members of his extended family.

Reading The Human Flies had already made me think of Agatha Christie, but Satellite People confirmed the connection. Not only is it dedicated to her, but in an afterword Lahlum explicitly states that he "tried to capture her style and spirit in terms of the plot, time structure and characters". So we have fast-moving plots, with excellent pacing and regular surprises and suspicion bounced around between the suspects. The mood is fairly cosy, if not actually detached, with none of the tension of a thriller. The "action" mostly consists of Kristiansen interviewing the same suspects repeatedly, then consulting Patricia, with any of his colleagues remaining entirely peripheral.

One difference from Christie is that, while Lahlum's plots involve some implausibilities, they have fewer seams showing and less in the way of ad hoc plot devices. There's also a small amount of romantic interest, with Kristiansen having a bit of an eye for women — and not always the right ones. And Lahlum also acknowledges the influence of Georges Simenon, which is apparent in his deeper probing of individual histories and characters.

In both novels secrets from the Second World War play a key role. In Satellite People the victim and several suspects are linked to a series of wartime murders of resistance members. And in The Human Flies much of the plot involves uncovering what really happened on a journey in 1944 taking Jewish refugees across the mountains to safety in Sweden. A broader theme here, though not one that takes over the story, is the complex terrain of the broad, grey expanse that lay between heroism and treason in wartime Norway (as elsewhere in Europe).

Anyone who likes easygoing, engaging detective fiction with a slightly old-fashioned feel to it should enjoy these novels. There is one more in the series, due out in paperback this year.

January 2016

External links:
The Human Flies
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- buy from Wordery
Satellite People
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- buy from Wordery
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Related reviews:
- more Scandinavian literature
- more detective fiction
%T The Human Flies
%Y K2 and Patricia
%A Lahlum, Hans Olav
%M Norwegian
%F Dickson, Kari
%I Pan Books
%D 2014 [2010]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781447232766
%P 373pp

%T Satellite People
%Y K2 and Patricia
%A Lahlum, Hans Olav
%M Norwegian
%F Dickson, Kari
%I Mantle
%D 2015 [2011]
%O hardcover
%G ISBN-13 9780230769533
%P 374pp