Review: Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

20140619-065221-24741563.jpgIt’s rare to read a book that could have been published any time in the last forty years. Even historical crime usually reflects the norms of society at the time of writing. Compare, for example, Ellis Peter’s Cadfael books with the more recent Matthew Shardlake novels by CJ Sansom. Peters’ straightforward narratives would be too simplistic for a modern readership who now demands much more from its crime novels. However, The Human Flies is unusual in that it is a contemporary novel by a very modern looking writer, if his photograph is anything to go by. However Lahlum has effectively captured the feel of a 1960s locked room mystery without the book ever feeling like a pastiche of the genre.

In 1968, a young detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen, is given his first high profile murder case. Harald Olesen, a hero of the Resistance turned popular politician, is found murdered in his Oslo apartment. From the state of the room and the speed with which the murderer escaped, it is clear that the killer must be a fellow tenant in the apartment block. Kristiansen is given the near impossible task of finding the culprit until Patricia, the daughter of a family friend, who is wheelchair bound and refuses to leave her house, offers to help him by studying the clues from afar.

A locked room mystery usually only holds limited appeal for me but Lahlum does an excellent job of keeping your attention. This is achieved by teasing the reader with the suspicion that no character is who they seem. This is most effectively done with a young married couple but deception lurks around every corner. Kristiansen as a protagonist is interesting enough but the most successful character in the book is the wheelchair bound, Patricia. In some ways she is based on what we have seen before, a sort of female Ironside. But she is nevertheless a compelling figure.

The writing is crisp and gives a flavour of the late 1960s that is sometimes reminiscent of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck books. I found The Human Files to be different from the usual Scandinavian fare and it was good to read something a little bit different. I see that the author is attending Iceland Noir this year. It will be good to hear him talk about his book.

Thanks to Macmillan for my review copy. The translation was by Kari Dickson.


23 thoughts on “Review: Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Oh, this does sound interesting. There’ve been a few ‘locked room’ kinds of mysteries that I’ve thought were exceptionally well-done, so I’m definitely going to check this one out. Do you happen to know whether this is a standalone or part of a series?


      1. GoodReads, which is obsessed “aboutserieshood” (I bet you they list The Fellowship of the Ring as Frodo #1, and as for the book of Genesis . . .), lists the original Norwegian edition as #1 in a series.


      1. Fingers crossed on that. I’m in the wilds of northern New Jersey in a township where polls show a substantial portion of the citizenry don’t see any reason why we should have a library at all . . .


  2. This does sound interesting. Sarah, can I ask, I notice that you put a picture of “what I’m reading now” at the top of your page. Have you ever given up on a book as it was so awful you couldn’t finish it? Just curious, as there’s a good few I haven’t finished (and some I’ve been tempted to throw at the wall!) Btw, thanks for the mention in “Recommended Blogs and Websites”. I’m going to get a book to help me make my blog more eye-catching – I did have my eye on the “Dummies Guide to…” series, but thought I’d ask other bloggers and people with lots of computer knowledge what they would recommend. In my primary school we had a BBC Computer. One of them.


    1. Plenty of books I’ve given up on, but I don’t review them here. Firstly because it’s not really fair to the author and also because I can never summon up much energy for books I don’t like. I’ve gradually found my way around wordpress but it took time.


  3. I don’t care for locked room mysteries, at least the ones I have tried so far. But the comparison between the writing style Ellis Peters’ series and CJ Sansom’s series is interesting. I have not read either, and I will have to try both. I may end up reading The Human Flies eventually also.


  4. Kathy D.

    Now this piques my interest, a modern locked-room mystery with a murdered Resistance fighter and a protagonish who is disabled. What’s not to like? Only problem: my library. Few global books are being purchased now or one copy is gotten and put in a midtown library as noncirculating. A real annoyance.
    So I’ll see what’s happening.


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  9. Enjoyed reading your review. Lahlum is one of my favourite authors and I am glad you like his work too. I read his latest novel to be translated The Catalyst Killing this month and I really enjoyed it as it had a gripping plot and interesting developments in K2 and Patricia’s relationship. Have you read it?
    If you’re interested here is my more in depth review:
    I was also quite lucky and managed to get an interview with him:
    He talked about his next book to be translated: The Chameleon People (should be coming out next year) and it sounds really good.


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