Saturday, 1 April 2017

Kjell Ola Dahl on writing

I write across many genres: fiction, non-fiction, scripts and crime fiction. But always, when I board the Oslo Detectives Series rollercoaster, together with Gunnarstranda and my other police characters, I know I am going to have fun exploring Norway’s capital – researching its various neighbourhoods and discovering aspects of the city that have previously been more or less unknown to me.

Another thing I find interesting in these books is exploring the many sides of of my characters’ personalities. Faithless is part of this series; and while the story is still essentially a police procedural, in this particular book I wanted to put some pressure on my characters. In this novel my detective, Frank Frolich, learns how small the world is, and how this fact affects both his work and his private life. Overall, I wanted the story to demonstrate how people's actions always depend to some extent both on their personal history and on circumstances they cannot fully control.

As a police officer Frolich is a man with power and position. He meets a woman as part of a routine task, and suddenly realises that she is connected to him through other people, through his own history, and soon also his work. When she is killed, he is therefore involved, whether he wants to be or not. And he is forced to make some choices, some of which, inevitably, are wrong. Like everyone, he carries his personal history with him, but this situation makes him face it in an uncomfortable way.

I have to confess I wanted Frolich to sink. And I wanted this psychological sinking process to be reflected in the plot in a physical way: so, to solve the mystery he has to go underground. One important character in the story works as a municipal engineer, looking after Oslo’s sewage system. Researching this aspect of the book was fascinating: I spent days with engineers and workmen – walking down tunnels, wading through shit (literally) and driving through the city’s subsurface maze. I collected a huge amount of facts about what really goes on down there, under the city. But in the end, I was writing a book, so everything had to come down to the story. The usual ‘killing of darlings’ therefore meant that I used only small parts of this research in the novel.

Another thing I wanted to do in this novel was explore the personality of the female police character, Lena Stigersand. She plays only a minor role in earlier books in the series, but this time I wanted to get to know her better. I am afraid I am rather hard on her in Faithless (don’t worry – she gets her revenge on me in the next novel): she wants to be out in front, to make choices, and she has to face the consequences of this. Ultimately, she is forced to realise she is not able to fully control her own life. She learns that all it takes is to forget some small detail, or for things to change slightly, and sooner or later her plan fails.

The last one to learn new things in this novel is Gunnarstranda himself. He is in fact the most stubborn character in this universe. But, at the same time he is as solid as a rock – the centre around which all these stories circle. He has changed in some minor ways over the years, but his wit and intelligence make it very difficult for me to provoke him into any surprise moves. Neverthelss, this time I did manage to force him to reflect on the phenomenon of what you might call ‘unknown energies’. And in that, he surprised even me.


Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl (published by Orenda Books)
Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back … and this time, it’s personal… When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her … and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he ponders the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda investigates a disturbingly similar cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway and Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.

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