Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review of The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum

1968 and Harald Olesen, a legendary hero of the Norwegian resistance and post-war government minister, is found shot dead in his apartment.  The murder is a lock-roomed mystery, with no-one else present in the apartment or seen leaving immediately after the shot.  A young detective Inspector, Kolbjorn Kristiansen, is assigned to investigate the case and quickly determines that one of the other apartment dwellers must be the murderer. At first it seems that none them have a motive, but with patient detective work – aided by Patricia, the brilliant-minded young daughter of a family friend – Kristiansen discovers each is a human fly with their own reasons for buzzing round Olesen and potentially wanting him dead.  The death somehow seems connected to Olesen’s secret work during the Second World War and when a second murder occurs they have to step-up their investigation to catch a smart and deadly killer.

The Human Flies is the first book in the K2 (Kolbjorn Kristiansen) historical crime series that also features his brilliant-minded, wheelchair-bound, young sidekick, Patricia.  This outing is set in 1968 and is essentially a locked-room mystery where the killer is most likely to be one of the other residents in a block of six apartments.  While each resident appears to have little motive, through clever detective work each is revealed to have a reason for harming the victim, Harald Olesen, a hero of the Norwegian resistance.  The book is clearly a homage to the Golden Era of crime fiction, especially to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot’s style of case and investigation, but also to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, with Patricia similarly being a brilliant armchair detective who will not leave her abode, but rather synthesizes clues and directs Kristiansen, who then picks up the plaudits.  Lahlum carefully spins out the plot, judiciously revealing clues and keeping characters in the frame.  However, at about three quarters of the way through it becomes obvious who the killer is to the reader even though Kristiansen seems oblivious, Patricia mute, and Lahlum tries to spin misdirection.  The consequence is the last quarter felt contrived and a little hollow.  Nonetheless, Lahlum spins an interesting puzzle and homage.

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