THE FOURTH MAN: K.O.DAHL trans DON BARTLETT

Posted: August 20, 2011 in Norway, review

During a police raid on a shop Detective Frank Frolich sees that there is a woman customer in the line of fire and he drags her down. The woman lays beneath him….She was probably about thirty years of age, smelling of perfume. Her blue eyes glinted like sapphires. Later at her instigation they begin a steamy sexually charged affair, and Frolich becomes completely obsessed with this black haired beauty, Elisabeth Faremo.

The way her soft breasts rose and fell to the rhythm of her breathing before he thrust the breath out of her. The desire raw, untamed, hungry-the kind that leaves in its wake guilt, shame, abortions, fatherless children, HIV.

Frolich discovers that Elisabeth’s brother Jonny is a career criminal, and that she has had a relationship with an older woman lecturer, and he becomes slightly wary but still infatuated. When there is a robbery and a security guard is killed the police receive a tip off that it is Jonny and his two associates. They are arrested, but then have to be released when Elisabeth gives them an alibi and mentions Frolich’s name. Frolich’s boss Gunnarstranda tells him to take a holiday to straighten himself out. But then Elisabeth goes missing, bodies begin to mount up and the plot becomes more complex and while the twist at the end might not be too difficult to predict that does not spoil an excellent police procedural.

My copy of The Fourth Man tells me on the back cover that this is the first in the series of K.O.Dahl’s Oslo Detective Mysteries. It isn’t it is number 5, written in 2005 by Norwegian K.O.Dahl and superbly translated by Don Bartlett [who also translates Jo Nesbo] in 2007. Surely the test of a good translation is that you should not realise it wasn’t written in English in the first place, and this is the case with The Fourth Man and Don’s other translations.

He pulled open the door with surprising energy. Who had he been expecting? Elisabeth? The person on the doorstep was as far from this fantasy as you could imagine. Police Inspector Gunnarstranda was standing there with both hands in his coat pockets, regarding him with a look he had only seen his boss give suspected criminals.

There are only a certain number of variations in plots, situations and characters in fiction, and in a crime fiction series it is what the author does with those situations, and the emphasis he or she places on each character that decides the success of the series. The Fourth Man is a well written story all about obsession of various kinds, and it concentrates on the emotions and thoughts of Frolich, the much younger of the two cops who are the protagonists in this top class police procedural series that now comprises eight books. The main characters are sharply drawn, and there are little cameos of the minor cast, the complex plot is engrossing with a few surprises, and very importantly the narrative descriptions are evocative of Norway with lots of crunchy snow, ice and misty rain. And despite all the Nordic angst, and the bodies mounting up, there is still room for that dark Scandinavian humour and social commentary that makes the reader think twice. 

‘Turned out the man was on his way back home-to Calcutta. He was unhappy in Norway, always cold and had no friends.’ ‘Yes, well, he’s not the only one.’

I have read and very much enjoyed The Man in the Window [2001-number 3 in the series] and you can read my review at Euro Crime, there is also a link on the K.O.Dahl website. The Last Fix [2000-number 2]  sits on my TBR shelf but in the bizarre order this series has been translated, Lethal Investment [1993-number 1] is due out in English next month, so I might wait until I have read that book, before I read that one. It takes a good police procedural series to survive a publisher’s quirky decisions and the Gunnarstranda and Frolich Oslo series is an excellent series, and I am looking forward to reading the rest when translated. 

The Gunnarstanda-Frolich series-Norwegian titles and publications dates [with English titles and dates in brackets]

Dødens investeringer utgitt første gang i 1993 [Lethal Investments 2011]

En liten gyllen ring utgitt første gang i 2000 [The Last Fix 2009]

Mannen i vinduet utgitt første gang i 2001 [The Man in the Window 2008]

* Lille Tambur utgitt første gang i 2003

* Den fjerde raneren utgitt første gang i 2005 [The Fourth Man 2007]

Svart engel utgitt første gang i 2007

Kvinnen i plast utgitt første gang i 2010

Isbaderen utgitt første gang i 2011  

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Comments
  1. Norman – Thanks for the excellent review. You make such a well-taken point, too, that when a novel is skillfully translated, it should not be apparent that the novel wasn’t written in English in the first place. I think it’s easy to forget how important a skilled translation is until one reads a book where the translation lacks something…

  2. Maxine says:

    I didn’t enjoy this one so much as the other two- I think The Last Fix is the best of the three. I agree it is criminal that the series is translated in such a higgledy piggeldy fashion – like Kjell Eriksson, it is actually very important to have these translated in order, because of the life events that happen to the protagonists in each case (ie Gunnarstrada and Ann Lindell) – the out of order translations render these arching plots reduce the emotional strength and build up.

    Saint Don of Bartlett is the most magnificent of translators – enough said!

  3. Norman says:

    Thanks Maxine, I will look forward to read that one. I have just finished reading a book in which the translator’s interpretation took me right out of the story, something that never happens with Don Bartlett. Do people, even working class people, in Buenos Aires really say ‘Blimey’? More on that book next week.

  4. […] a reminder for my own use, but since it might be of interest to some readers, I copy and paste from Crime Scraps. Just added to my wish list Lethal Investments by K.O. Dahl, release date: 1 September 2011. I’m […]

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