Review – The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl

Oslo, 1938. War is in the air and Europe is in turmoil. Hitler’s Germany has occupied Austria and is threatening Czechoslovakia; there’s a civil war in Spain and Mussolini reigns in Italy.

When a woman turns up at the office of police-turned-private investigator Ludvig Paaske, he and his assistant – his one-time nemesis and former drug-smuggler Jack Rivers – begin a seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity.

But all is not what it seems, and when Jack is accused of murder, the trail leads back to the 1920s, to prohibition-era Norway, to the smugglers, sex workers and hoodlums of his criminal past … and an extraordinary secret.

Both a fascinating portrait of Oslo’s interwar years, with Nazis operating secretly on Norwegian soil and militant socialists readying workers for war, The Assistant is also a stunningly sophisticated, tension-packed thriller – the darkest of hard-boiled Nordic Noir – from one of Norway’s most acclaimed crime writers.


There is nothing quite as satisfying as knowing that when you sit down with a novel published by Orenda Books that you are guaranteed a superlative read. Each book they publish is packed with characters that haunt you weeks after you have finished, the story written, edited and translated with passion, to give the reader hours of unbridled enjoyment! So when I sat down to read The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl, I did so with a smile on my face and with the luxury of knowing that the story would thrill and delight!

So this review will not surprise, because it will beseech every one to read it!

When I picked up The Assistant I knew I was in for hours of reading pleasure, but still, even with the high standards I have come to expect from Orenda Books and Kjell Ola Dahl, my expectations were blown out of the water and into space. It is to risk repeating my often used phrase stunning. Intelligently written, it delivers a character driven tale within a narrative both clever and deliciously deceptive.

How does he do this?

Most thrillers, very good ones, excellent ones, rely on explosive events to deliver that feeling of tension and threat to the reader. In The Assistant, that is to some extent flipped on its head and instead the writer delivers that feeling of pressure in the readers mind, by giving us characters we feel we know, then subverting our expectations ,destabilizing and unsettling us.

Like walking around a labyrinth you are constantly taking wrong turns, so that at each dead end, you come across another version of Ludvig Paaske or his assistant Jack Rivers. It is only as you finally emerge from the twists and turns that have seduced you, with the feeling of panic building up in your chest, that chameleon like, both characters are revealed in all their glorious variety.

They, as much as the turbulent events both men are caught up in, are what make this novel so sumptuous, so addictive and so utterly compelling. By littering his book with an ensemble caste of spies, sex workers, smugglers and cold hearted killers and embroiling in a period of history where normal order was disintegrating into madness and mayhem, he displays humanity in all its glory, in all its ugliness and weaves it into an outstanding thriller.

If your looking for a clever, intelligent, beautifully written novel to add to your collection then this is the one!

From Amazon, Waterstones and your local Independent bookshop.

About the author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers (Oslo Detectives series) featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

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