Review: THE CATALYST KILLING by Hans Olav Lahlum

thecatalystkillinglahulumFor the third instalment of what has become a favourite historical crime series for me we move out of the 60’s and into 1970. The book opens with one of the series’ heroes, Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen or K2 as he’s referred to by the press, sitting on a train and witnessing a young woman outside behaving erratically and seeming to be in great fear. The woman attempts to catch the train and even motions to K2 that he should pull the emergency cord after the doors close before she can board. He doesn’t, not realising what she wants until it’s too late, and a few hours later he is called to the scene of the woman’s murder. She is soon identified as Marie Morgenstierne, the young woman who was the fiancée of Falko Reinhardt, a charismatic political activist who disappeared two years earlier.

Fortunately for K2 he is once again able to call on the crime solving assistance of Patricia Borchmann. She is the daughter of an old family friend and her logic and intelligence has helped K2 solve two previous cases (or if we’re being scrupulously honest we should admit she’s done most of the solving all on her own). Patricia is in a wheelchair and chooses not to leave her home but none of that stops her from thinking things through and directing K2’s questioning of suspects and evidence collection. The series titles all relate to the type of crime Patricia sees at the heart of the story and here she feels that the killing of Marie Morgenstierne is the kind of crime that sets of a chain reaction of sorts. Events, including further killings, that might never have taken place but for the original murder. This is just one aspect of the unique perspective Patricia brings to crime solving and the series.

Another thing I thoroughly enjoy about this series is its exploration of Norwegian history. As with the previous two books there are aspects of the story that hark back to WWII but there is a lot of fascinating contemporary detail as well. Marie’s circle of activist friends are key to this element of the novel. Her missing fiancé was leader of a radical communist group which is attempting to carry on its work despite the loss of their leader. The young people’s activism is contrasted with that of a network of older men who had been convicted of being involved with the Nazis during the war and thought, perhaps, to still be active on the right-wing side of politics. Might they really be planning some kind of attack on a prominent political figure? And if so can K2 and Patricia prevent it from taking place?

The suspect pool for Marie’s murder is pretty wide. After Marie’s death there are three members of Falko Reinhardt’s group left for K2 to investigate and he must also look to former member, Miriam Filtvedt Bentsen, who chose to move to a less radical group some time after the leader’s disappearance. There are also several former Nazis whose current activities he needs to dig into and possibly even Falko Reinhard’s parents who are still struggling with the disappearance of their much-adored only child. Even Marie’s father is a potential suspect, having been estranged from his daughter largely due to their wildly opposite political leanings. This all makes for a fascinating and complex story and a difficult crime for Patricia and K2 to solve. Even the resolution here is complicated, though it is satisfying.

There’s some interesting developments in the personal lives of the main characters here too. K2 is glad that Miriam Filtvedt Bentsen proves never to be too high up the list of suspects because he becomes somewhat smitten by her. In a way this fact forms a wedge between K2 and Patricia (though not in the obvious way) and in turn provides one of the most dramatic and heart-breaking moments of the book. I always know I’m getting a bit too invested in fictional people when I start preparing to give one of them a bollocking for some aspect of their behaviour. But I really do like both these main characters and I want them to continue to solve crimes for my enjoyment (it is all about me right?) so I don’t want them being unpleasant to each other. I note though that there is another book in the series already published overseas so I’ll just have to hope that things are patched up already.

Before I wind up I must make particular mention of the translation here. It is so easy to become blasé about having access to such great books thanks to the work of largely unsung contributors. Most people, myself included, tend only to think of the translator when the writing doesn’t read naturally or feels clunky in some way but that is never the case with this series. I was particularly struck this time by the inclusion of several colloquialisms that are perfectly natural in English, describing someone as “a few sandwiches short of a picnic” for example, and couldn’t help wondering if this was an actual translation or whether in the original language a totally different derogatory phrase for calling into question someone’s intelligence was used. And if so how did Kari Dickson (this novel’s translator) choose that particular phrase? I guess I’ll never know but it fitted so perfectly in context, along with the thousands of other choices I’m sure she had to make, and as I am woefully monolingual I am eternally grateful for her efforts.

THE CATALYST KILLING might be my favourite book of this series so far (and I really liked THE HUMAN FLIES and SATELLITE PEOPLE). Along with the well-plotted classic whodunit there is the intriguing look at life in 1970’s Norway, a slew of interesting characters and more than one heart-pounding moment. Although it does have some humourous moments this book isn’t as light as its predecessors. It’s still a long way from the noir-ish end of the genre spectrum but the tensions and heartbreaks of many of the key players give this novel a more sombre tone. Ok there were tears. But I loved it anyway.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Kari Dickson
Publisher Pan Macmillan [this edition 2016]
ISBN 9781447232780
Length 406 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #3 in the Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen series

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7 Responses to Review: THE CATALYST KILLING by Hans Olav Lahlum

  1. So pleased you loved this book and I too wanted to thump a certain character at the end of the book. It is very easy to get invested into the lives of K2 and Patricia. I also think this series would make a great TV drama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooooh yes I would enjoy this series being adapted too.

      I will be seeking out the next book soon…need to find out if K2 and Patricia patch things up. After she slaps him a time or two. Except she wouldn’t do that of course, no matter how much he might deserve it


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    It’s so nice to have a good, solid, police procedural series where the characters’ lives are there, but don’t overwhelm the actual mysteries at hand. And I really like the setting and atmosphere for this, too. Add in the historical element being done well, and it’s little wonder you’re fond of this series, Bernadette.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a great review. And thank you for mentioning the translation. In answer to your question about being “a few sandwiches short of a picnic”, I have to admit to taking some artistic licence there, based how I hear K2’s voice. In the Norwegian original it says “By the time I got off at the National Theatre, I had dismissed the whoe incident, having convinced myself she was simply a mad woman.” Hoep that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kari Dickson says:

      Sorry, see my name’s not there – it’s Kari Dickson, the translator.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I figured it was you Kari and thanks for stopping by so I can thank you in person for doing such a great job – so necessary for dolts like me who can only speak a single language.

        And thanks for sharing that little insight into your process…it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment at all…when I read it I remember thinking I bet K2 would say that if it was available to him in Norwegian.


  4. kathy d. says:

    Now this book sounds tantalizing. I read The Human Flies and didn’t read the second book, just because the character relation seemed so implausible to me, a police detective consulting with and taking direction from a civilian. But it is a creative detective pairing, and now I’m intrigued by this book.
    By the way, “a few sandwiches short of a picnic” usually means someone who is of low intelligence. That’s how it’s commonly used. A friend of mine uses this phrase often.
    It’s like saying “someone is playing without a full deck [of cards].” Or as the friend also
    says, “a few puppies short of a litter.”
    English: Go figure.


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