Katrine is a young woman struggling to put her shattered life into some kind of order. She is finishing a drug rehabilitation course at a commune for addicts, and feels confident enough to celebrate with her social workers at a party. Leaving her lover asleep in a car, she strays to the shore of a lake. As dawn breaks, she sees a man approaching her from the nearby trees. He is naked. It is the last thing Katrine will ever see.
This is the arresting opening of Norwegian writer K O Dahl's The Last Fix, the third of his 11 novels to be translated into English. The author's galvanic prose style will have readers wondering why he is, so far, the least known of the ocean of Scandinavian writers washing over the crime scene.
We have met Dahl's memorable protagonists, Oslo detectives Frank Frølich and Inspector Gunnarstranda, in The Fourth Man and The Man in the Window. As the two investigate the vicious killing of Katrine, they initially suspect associates from her days as an addict – but then suspicion falls on staff at the commune. Katrine's experiences as a prostitute open up a whole new range of possible killers.
As in previous books by Dahl, we are presented (in a subtly nuanced translation by Don Bartlett) with a dexterous synthesis of classic police procedural and social novel. The details of life in modern Norway are more than added value. Such texture is as pleasurable as the whodunnit elements, particularly as the detectives' caustic observations on the absurdities and irritations of Norwegian society are so sardonically entertaining.
If there is a discernible influence on Dahl, it's the matchless Swedish detective novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The Last Fix has all the skilfully orchestrated tension of that duo's Martin Beck series.
Gratitude is due to Faber for adding this new Dahl title to the handful available in the UK – but wouldn't it be nice to have every book by this important crime writer available in English?