Friday, November 26, 2010

Dashiell Hammett and Hans Olav Lahlum

Oh my, you say, why a double post for these different books? Well, to save time. And I want to try to express how the one made me think of the other. Let's see if I can muddle through that chain of thought... I read my first Dashiell Hammett first, and after that Lahlum's pastiche based on mostly Agatha Christie, but anyway it did remind me a bit of Hammett, so I went oh, he's trying to be a bit methodical and hard-boiled like Hammett. But it's not that much alike, really. Well, apart from Lahlum's being an utter pastiche on old-fashioned crime novels. Are you with me?

Right, so I enjoyed Hammett quite a bit. I've been meaning to read him ever since he made a cameo in Locked Rooms, but never got around to it. Thanks to the Aldiko I now have read Arson Plus. It's more of a short story really, about a private detective investigating a possible insurance fraud, with the help of a police officer. Short, succinct, clever, funny and hard-boiled indeed, but not silly-gangster hard-boiled - you know, with curled upper lips and stuff. No, it's the fore-runner to the awesome fuck-fuck murder scene investigation scene (trust me, the sentence does make sense) from The Wire. Recommended - and did I mention it's short? Your lives will hardly be shortened at all.

I read Menneskefluene by Lahlum because my editor friend wondered what I might think of it. It was an interesting read, and is being widely translated. The title means The Human Flies, and the idea is that some people get stuck in a traumatic event in their own history and keep circling it, like flies around manure. This term is introduced by the novels ccentric detective, a young woman in a wheelchair. Her family is accquainted with the young policeman who is investigating the locked room mystery murder of the old resistance war hero. The novel being set in -68, the war is still fresh in memories, but swept under the carpet. And the real purpose of the novel is just that - exploring the way Norway, after the war, divided its participants into either heroes or villains. If you were with the resistance, you were a hero, if you were a nazi or a collaborator, you were a villain. No nuances allowed or possible. Gradually, during the book, Lahlum introduces new sides to his apparently clear-cut characters, and shows that there are grey shades in the black-white spectrum. All cutely packaged up in a retro-style detective story, with a bumbling policeman and a genius "gentleman detective".  It's probably very therapeutic and necessary to tell this story in Norway, but I'm not sure if it's as immediately relevant to us on the outside. As a detective story it's actually not brilliant - it's rather obvious, easy to solve and like I said, too clearly modelled on Agatha Christie, all the way down to annoying punctuation. But it's cute. I can see why it's a hit, even though it's a bit of a simple book.

Damn, it was hard to read in Norwegian though. Bloody hell. Makes you a bit mad too, you start thinking that things are akkurat kjempepene and crazy stuff like that. Also, you find yourself randomly singing the Fireman Sam theme in Norwegian. Very catchy.

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