The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl Orenda Books March 21st 2019
In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends
abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire. And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
Written with Dahl’s trademark characterisation and clever plotting, The Courier sees one of Norway’s most criticallyacclaimed authors at his best, as he takes on one of the most
horrifying periods of modern history. With its sophisticated storytelling and elegant prose, this stunning and compelling wartime thriller is reminiscent of the writing of John Le Carré and William Boyd.
I am not sure I can put into words how much I enjoyed this superb novel, so different from his previous novels but in my opinion better.
Why? World War II always provokes huge emotion and we are so used to reading novels from the perspectives of Germany, Britain, Russia and Eastern Europe, but we never read much about Norway and Sweden’s role. This was what was so fascinating about The Courier, as I knew very little about their role or indeed what it meant for its inhabitants.
Kicking off in present day we met Turid, only a baby in World War II but with parents who had a history, and a turbulent and traumatic story, full of intrigue that you wanted to discover.
The chance spotting of a bracelet by Turid set in motion a chain of memories but also a story that enthralled and captivated. Dahl skilfully used flashbacks to 1942 and 1967 and effortlessly unravelled events, wrapping us up in a whirl of intrigue surrounding three central characters.
Ester, Norwegian and Jewish with parents who failed to evade capture by the Germans escaped to Sweden, a strong, brave young woman used as a pawn in a bigger game. She was the linchpin, the link, the one who the other characters revolved around. You had to admire her, empathise with her and you knew she was the only one who was true and honest, the only character you could trust.
Gerhard, partner of Ester’s childhood friend, Asa, deeply involved in the resistance, yet Dahl gave us glimpses of a man you perhaps could not, nor did not want to trust. I can’t say I liked him very much, and found him self absorbed, slightly unhinged and you knew there was a dangerous element to him.
Sverre was a strange character and again there was something about him I didn’t like nor trust. You questioned wether his intentions were honourable, was he protecting something bigger, yet Dahl also showed his vulnerability, his fear, making him slightly more human than Gerhard.
Intrigue and espionage whirled around them, the tension palpable, like a piece of string pulled so tight that at some point you knew it would snap but you weren’t sure when or where or what impact it would have. Dahl kept that string pulled tight throughout and the snap when it happened was dramatic but in a quiet understated way, that perfectly befitted the whole feel of the novel. It was this quiet and understated feel that I admired hugely, along with the wonderful atmosphere that Dahl created. It was an atmosphere that I have found difficult to describe, but it was almost like being out in the dead of night, with a dense fog whirling around, a chill in the air with dark figures that lurked in the shadows. You sensed danger behind every corner, every turn of the page and that is what made The Courier so deeply absorbing and utterly brilliant.
The detail, and the descriptions that infused Dahl’s narrative were such that you were in no doubt that you were in Sweden during the war. You sensed the huge danger that Ester found herself in, but you also sensed her tangled emotions, her need to do what was right for her childhood friend and to see justice done both in the past and the present.
It wasn’t until the latter parts that Dahl pulled all the varying strands together, that you finally began to see the whole picture and it was not without its surprises, surprises that weren’t dramatic but subtle, that made perfect sense.
I cannot speak highly enough of The Courier, it was atmospheric and a superbly written piece of fiction that is very definitely one of the best novels I have read this year.
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of The Courier to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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 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.
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 featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won theRiverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and
countries, and he lives in Oslo