Interview with K. O. Dahl

K. O. [Kjell Ole] Dahl interviewed by Charles J. Rzepka, June 4, 2015


Riding the new wave of interest in Scandanavian crime fiction that began to build momentum in the early 1990s, K. O. Dahl is known to fans of Nordic Noir for his irascible and grotesque Oslo police detective, Gunnarstranda (like Colin Dexter’s Morse, he seems to have no first name) and Gunnarstranda’s younger, more hip, and more emotionally susceptible sidekick, Frank Frolich. Together the two have appeared in five books in English translation since 1993, when Dahl published Lethal Investments, the first in his seven-book series. He has also written five other novels as well as short stories and nonfiction, including a guide to Venice.

This interview took place on June 4, 2015, in a coffee shop in northwest Oslo, which was not—I afterwards discovered—conducive to clear digital recording. The background noise made written transcription all but impossible and two years ensued before the interviewer found someone who could do an adequate job of it. What follows is, I believe, worth the wait.


CJR:     You must be asked this all the time. How did you become interested in writing as a career? Was it writing that you thought of, or was it crime writing particularly?

KOD:     It was writing. You see, in Norway, I write, also, other things. I also write ordinary fiction and novel fiction.

CJR:     Was there a collection of short stories that I saw in your bibliography?

KOD:     Yes, yes.

CJR:     And a guide book to Venice, apparently.

KOD:     Yes, it was supposed to be an author’s guide to this or that city, so I picked Venice. Been there many times.

CJR:     When did you think writing would be, if not lucrative, at least a way to make a living?

KOD:     I had my first novel here in Norway in ’93, and my career started—that was before the crime wave, Scandinavian crime.

CJR:     That was 1993. Was that Lethal Investments? Your first book was a crime novel?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. I was then 35. I had started to write a bit when I was 30, because I’ve always—I was writing songs, playing in a rock band when I was younger.

CJR:     What instrument did you play?

KOD:     Guitar. I always liked poems and wanted to write. Then, I was studying economics at the time, so I was interested in fraud and that kind of crime. I wanted to put that kind of crime into a crime fiction book, because otherwise you have this ordinary Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes, very “jealousy” kind of murder, and crime of passion, and those things. It was well received so I was encouraged to carry on, and in 2000, I had this income so that I could quit my job as a teacher.

CJR:     You taught economics?

KOD:     Yes.

CJR:     At the university?

KOD:     No, this was, what do you call it, Gymnasium.

CJR:     We call it high school.

KOD:     Yeah.

CJR:     Had you thought of writing when you were younger?

KOD:     Yeah.

CJR:     Were there childhood experiences that shaped your interest in writing, or—

KOD:     My father was a journalist, and he also always had a lot of books. I’ve always been interested in literature. I’ve always been reading. My friends did not, so it was a very private interest for me, reading. Started early to read classics because my father was very interested in literature, so we shared that.

CJR:     You chose economics as a field rather than literature. Is there a reason for that?

KOD:     I started at the university. I started studying psychology when I was 20, and then I just quit and started to travel around. I traveled for many years, and then I was about 27, 28. I knew I had to do something, so, I just started something, and it was economics. I got a place there.

CJR:     When you were traveling, did that include Venice? Is that where you first visited?

KOD:     Oh, yes, yes, yes.

CJR:     You fell in love with the city, apparently.

KOD:     I was also traveling in the United States, and South America, and Europe.

CJR:     Did you travel very far in the United States?

KOD:     East, west, south.

CJR:     Boston? New York?

KOD:     I’ve went to Boston later. I mean, I arrived in New York City, and then in south Florida, and west, and then north, San Francisco, and then east again.

CJR:     You made a circuit around the country. You returned to Norway and decided to major in economics? Is that when you began your university studies, after your travels?

KOD:     I had this one and a half year in psychology from before. I started a family. I needed a grade to have a job as a teacher, so I did some subjects here and there.

CJR:     You must have some mathematical ability. Economics is a rather challenging field to choose.

KOD:     Yes, but I’ve always been interested in mathematics.  My daughter has a masters in mathematical philosophy.

CJR:     Do you find a use for mathematics in your writing at all?

KOD:     No. Maybe in the plot kind of thing. It all adds up.

CJR:     It all comes out somewhere. Where do Gunnerstranda and Frolich originate from? Do you know what they’re based on, people that you know?

KOD:     Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, they’re people I’ve been working with, and people I know, especially Gunnerstranda. He’s a very eccentric character, and he’s inspired by a man I was working with when I was collecting money for my traveling. He was, in fact, working in the university in Oslo as, what do you call it, a caretaker.

CJR:     Oh, as a maintenance person.

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, and he was in that group.

CJR:     He has the same appearance, sort of short?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, and cynical.

CJR:     Cynical, the comb-over, gleaming white teeth. And Gunnarstranda’s sidekick, Frolich?

KOD:     He’s more the alter ego. I mean, he has no special inspiration. He’s more what I associate with a policeman, down to earth.

CJR:     Do you think of yourself as Frolich?

KOD:     Possibly even both of them, especially Gunnerstranda. He’s a character that’s very hard to write about because he’s very original.

CJR:     He only has a last name.

KOD:     Yes. I haven’t found a first name yet.

CJR:     He has a first name, but we—

KOD:     We don’t know.

CJR:     He’s a little like Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, then. Endeavor.

KOD:     [Makes a face]

CJR:     I don’t think it’s a very inspired choice, either. Speaking of origins for Gunnerstranda: he’s a kind of grotesque character. Is he supposed to have any kind of fairy tale quality about him? I mean, he’s a little troll-like to me, in my imagination. Aren’t trolls important in Norwegian folklore, and in art and music and literature?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. In the beginning, it was like that, but now [in 2015], there are eight Gunnarstranda books in Norway, and he has grown a bit more human, likable, I think. In the beginning, I wanted to have this aspect that he was able to frighten people, in his appearance.

CJR:     He has a very charming demeanor, but then—

KOD:     It’s turning.

CJR:     – it sort of turns, suddenly. Was it from the beginning that you thought of him as a widower, having lost his wife? I can’t remember if that was there in Lethal Investments.

KOD:     It was from the beginning, because I wanted him to be a bit vulnerable.

CJR:     I think Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer also is a widower. Did you think that would make him more approachable or accessible to readers?

KOD:     Makes him more human, likable and accessible, yes.

CJR:     He grew up in the—what’s the Grunerlokke area like?

KOD:     Now that is a very posh place, but at that time, the 1990s, it was working class.

CJR:     Do you have a particular address where he grew up in mind?

KOD:     Yes, it’s Seilduksgatta. [“Sail-making Street”]

CJR:     Can you write it down for me? Before I leave Oslo, maybe I can walk over there and find it.

After our interview, I did find Gunnarstranda’s childhood neighborhood. These apartments are at the end of Seilduksgatta, across from the Sieildugsfabrik, or “Sailcloth Factory.”

Here’s the “Sailcloth Factory” across the Seilduksgatta from Gunnarstranda’s childhood home.

KOD:     Yeah. I don’t exactly remember the number now. But I referred to it in the book because I found it. The place is very changed now. Like I said, it’s become a little bit like Greenwich village, Norwegian style.

CJR:     It was the factory area, right, with the river providing the power?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. That street was for making sail cloth, so sailing.

CJR:     Is that significant at all to your conception of Gunnerstranda, sailing?

KOD:     No.

CJR:     No?

KOD:     I just liked the area when I was there.

CJR:     What writers of crime fiction have influenced your own writing?

KOD:     The traditional ones. I was very fond of Chandler and Hammett, and Jim Thompson.

CJR:     Oh, Jim Thompson?

KOD:     Yes. I liked The Killer Inside Me.

CJR:     I don’t think Gunnerstranda would.

KOD:     No.

CJR:     It’s an amazing book, though, isn’t it?

KOD:     Yes. Literarily–that’s the part of it that I’m amazed by. I don’t think I’m directly inspired by it, but I admire Thompson’s writing. And the classical Swedish show Wallender is very important because it’s a police procedural, and I wanted to adopt that in my book, the first one.

CJR:     You like the police procedural, you were attracted to that from the beginning?

KOD:     Yes, because of the political aspect. The police are positioned between the official society and the public. I like the police in the Boston area, where the Marathon Bombing occurred, and—now, the police are very under attack in the United States, and that’s the role of police, as the buffer between government and the citizens. I’m attracted to how they define themselves, how they adapt to society, how they focus. I wanted Lethal Investments to take that angle into society.

CJR:     It seems to be an important factor for a lot of Norwegian and Scandinavian writers as well.

KOD:     It makes this book a little bit more than just a mystery or a plot, because you have this perspective into Norwegian society.

CJR:     Right, I see. I was thinking, in terms of influences, when I read The Fourth Man, I particularly thought of Chandler. It seemed to me you’ve got the “body double” theme from The Lady in the Lake and the femme fatale.

KOD:     Femme fatale, of course. Also, James Ellroy. I like him because of his milieu. I’m very fascinated by the American crime movies from the ’40s and the ’50s.

CJR:     The noir genre.

KOD:     Yes, because there are some very good stories, very concentrated, and a few memorable characters, and this noir approach to the protagonist has affected my stories in a way. I think that’s the kind of perfect crime fiction story, and I try more and more to create that kind of story.

CJR:     What about movies like Double Indemnity, Fred McMurray’s greatest role? Do you prefer the movie version of that to the book, or how about The Maltese Falcon?

KOD:     Oh, yes, The Maltese Falcon. I think the movie versions are very good in their own respect, in a way. I mean, for instance, The Postman Always Thinks Twice, it’s a fascinating movie, but it’s not as good as the book.

CJR:     What is it that appeals to you about the book, particularly?

KOD:     Cain’s language. He’s always—[sound of three loud handclaps]

CJR:     Bang, bang, bang. And Elroy, too, when he gets to White Jazz, it’s very spare—it’s amazing how much you can do with so little.

KOD:     Yeah. I think The Postman Always Rings Twice is also a perfect little story. And The Maltese Falcon, it’s an admirable film, but, I mean, that’s Bogart.

CJR:     You admire Postman, but you don’t adopt the first-person voice, do you?

KOD:     Well, I have one book in first person, my third book.

CJR:     Is that a Gunnerstranda?

KOD:     No, no, it’s more a noir story, and I like it very much. I think it’s very good.

CJR:     What’s the name? What’s the title?

KOD:     The title would be, in—I don’t know the word, but when the sculptor makes a sculpture, he also makes it in a small miniature.

CJR:     A model?

KOD:     Yes, so it’s The Model [Miniatyren (1996)]

CJR:     It’s not translated?

KOD:     No. It’s from 1996.

CJR:     Does it have a first-person detective speaker?

KOD:     First person, yeah. It’s a very noir kind of story because of the femme fatale. What I realized is, it has very limited possibilities, because you have the “I voice,” and if you look at recent crime fiction, they alternate between “I voice” and the third person. I don’t like that.

CJR:     It seems like cheating.

KOD:     Yes, and I don’t want to cheat.

CJR:     You like the third person voice, the third person point of view. This gets me into questions about your technique, which is really the heart of what I find interesting. When you’re using free indirect discourse and you’re getting us into the thoughts of a character, are you thinking deliberately about what you’re doing there?

KOD:     Yes, because the third person has a great feel. Take Elmore Leonard, he’s very indirect in his voice. It’s almost like an “I voice” because you follow this character, as if he’s speaking a monologue.

CJR:     I’m a great admirer of Leonard.

KOD:     I like what he does. I use that technique in some places, but on the other hand, you can switch back: you can be very naive, or you can be very calculating. There are a lot of possibilities in the third person.

CJR:     It’s just more flexible, isn’t it? I noticed that in The Fourth Man, it looked as though the entire book was written from Frank Frolich’s point of view. Is that a deliberate choice?

KOD:     Yes, because the plot is like that. I mean, he’s defeated at the end. He has to go through these different paragraphs to dissolve the whole thing, his illusions about Elisabeth, the gang leader’s sister. That’s in the plot, meant to be only his problem—sometimes, I can change to Gunnerstranda, to give the reader a rest, a pause, in a way.

CJR:     Mm-hmm. It strikes me that that’s also what Hammett was doing in The Maltese Falcon, although there, everything is described entirely from the outside. You never get into Sam Spade’s thoughts, and yet there’s no scene in which Spade doesn’t appear, and in every single scene, you’re sort of seeing things from his point of view. Third person was a deliberate choice for you in The Fourth Man, then?

KOD:     Yeah.

CJR:     Why did you decide to let Elisabeth just walk into the ocean at the end?

KOD:     Because, I mean, it’s an homage to Celine.

CJR:     Were you planning to bring her back?

KOD:     Yes, I was.

CJR:     Are you going to?

KOD:     No. I haven’t yet.

CJR:     You left that a possibility?

KOD:     Yes. I tried to do it once, but I didn’t like it.

CJR:     Does she want to come back? I ask because when I was interviewing Elmore Leonard for the book Being Cool, he said repeatedly that he begins with characters and the book basically evolves around the characters, who begin to think for themselves. Do you have that feeling at some point, where a character—

KOD:     More and more.

CJR:     – takes on a kind of independent—

KOD:     More and more like that, because this year in September, I have a new book coming out. It’s from the Second World War here in Norway, and it evolved in that way. I had to create this character, and the story came out from these characters. I mean, Leonard had this huge experience. He had so many stories, and so maybe he was concentrating on that, because his latest 10 or 15 books are very much alike, made in that way.

CJR:     Interesting. This brings me to another topic, and that is the role of World War II experiences in Norwegian literature in general. I haven’t read widely in it, but it seems to me that, certainly in crime fiction, but even in Norwegian literature in general, in Per Petterson’s work, for example—nearly all of these writers introduce the question of the Nazi occupation, and what one did, or one’s father did, at that time. You deal with this in The Man in the Window, too. Is this a theme that it’s impossible to get away from if you’re writing in Norway?

KOD:     It’s always possible to get away from it, but it’s very easy to adopt in crime fiction stories, because you have the past leading, in a way, to today. Modern crime fiction is very Freudian, meaning psychoanalytical. The past affects the todays. I think the Second World War is important in a small society like this, because everyone is affected. Someone in the family was a Nazi, or a resistance fighter, and you have this generation that is finally owning this history. Some have just recently died, so I think now stories are coming out that go beyond the official history.

CJR:     Is this allied to themes and settings that focus on father-son relationships, too? I mean, that topic seems to come up over and over again. It’s not just somebody who was a Nazi collaborator or a resistance fighter. The impact on the son seems to be in particular focus—in Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses or—

KOD:     Yeah, and family secrets.

CJR:     Family secrets, that’s right.

KOD:     Because there’s been a lot of denying and fights around this. We had this happen recently, where a scientist published three books, and he’s giving out old names, from Nazis, from collaborators, from cheaters, and just listing them. Then, you can see your family, and you can see your uncle. There’s a big discussion over the ethical side of doing this, but, I mean, it proves that the Second World War is still affecting us.

CJR:     Are these names of people who have died, or are some of them still alive?

KOD:     Both.

CJR:     Do you think this is a good thing for this society?

KOD:     I don’t know. For a writer, it’s very important. You can use it in research.

CJR:     That’s true. What kind of work did you do for The Man in the Window? Looks like you did an awful lot of archival research.

KOD:     Yes, but there are also a lot of family things in there.

CJR:     Oh, really?

KOD:     Yeah, stories from my mother. She was 11 when the war started, and 16 in 1945. She was living here in Oslo. She was seeing how they treated the Norwegian mistresses of German soldiers after the war, and everything. She was very upset, and she gathered the stories from my family, not family secrets, but stories told by other people.

CJR:     And Reidar’s involvement in the newspaper recycling business, the stuff about newspapers and journalism, does that come from your family history, from your father the journalist?

KOD:     No, that was a person I was working with.

CJR:     A person that you worked with?

KOD:     He was not like Reidar, but he was a resistance worker. He was a Jew. His family was killed in Auschwitz, and he was escaping to Sweden and to England and was trained as a commando.

CJR:     Like Reidar?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. But I equipped this character with a lot of bad sides. My friend didn’t have those, but he was, in fact, making a career out of researching these newspaper rolls that were recycled at the time. He told me that.

CJR:     How do people feel when they find themselves appearing in your books?

KOD:     I don’t know.

CJR:     That’s why they’re still your friends, I guess? It seems to me that’s always a danger for a writer, if you’re using real life to write fiction.

KOD:     Yeah, especially when you have the extreme, like [Karl Ove] Knausgaard. He writes about his wife and his uncles.

CJR:     Right, and what he has for breakfast.

KOD:     What they did, how they defeated him.

CJR:     The book is terrifically popular in the English-speaking world. You must know this.

KOD:     Here, too. I mean, that’s an extreme thing. He’s a very lonely man, because he has delivered everything.

CJR:     Well, he has no time to socialize. He has to spend all his time writing.

KOD:     Like Proust.

CJR:     Yeah, like Proust, exactly. When you have a book in mind, do you start out with a storyboard for it?

KOD:     Sometimes.

CJR:     Because your plots are pretty intricate. I man, The Fourth Man is, particularly.

KOD:     I didn’t plot that one.

CJR:     You didn’t?

KOD:     No. You know that American writer called [Joe] Lansdale?

CJR:     I don’t think so.

KOD:     American. I mean, I met him in Italy, and he was older than me, and he asked me, “Do you plot your stories?” I said yes, and he wouldn’t talk to me. I said, “I do it sometimes.” The later books, I did not, because it was about the characters. The Man in the Window was plotted, and The Last Fix, as you call it in English, that was plotted

CJR:     Did you find yourself repeatedly going back and having to change something to make it fit with what came later?

KOD:     Oh yeah, sometimes.

CJR:     You would get an idea, and you’d say, “Now I have to go back.”

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, so I did a lot of rewriting.

CJR:     Did you know that Elisabeth was going to be the—I mean, she turns out, after all, to be “the fourth man,” doesn’t she?

KOD:     Yeah. I did not know how this plot was going to end in the beginning, but I started with Frolich’s affection for this woman who is obviously is not a good person.

CJR:     No, she’s terrible at the end.

KOD:     Yes, but he’s obsessed with her, in a way. That was the drive in this book. I wanted to keep that relationship going, and then the story evolved around it. Then, the brother, Faremo, the brother, he was the bad guy. Then, the crime they committed evolved, then the lies evolved. It comes slowly.

CJR:     It’s amazing to me that you can create such an intricate plot sort of on the fly as you’re moving along. It’s impressive.

KOD:     Thank you.

CJR:     And the plots themselves. They’re quite intricate. Many of them depend on physical evidence and clues and multiple layers of deception. I mean, what’s the appeal there? Because some authors just write a straight—Elmore Leonard, for example, just wrote a straight crime story. He wasn’t interested in complicated mysteries.

KOD:     I’m very interested in that topic myself, because sometimes, I feel I make it too complicated. I often discuss with the editor, “Is this too complicated, or is it not?” When I read other people, other writers, I think sometimes I can easily understand the plot and I don’t like that. At the same time, you know when you write that there are differently skilled readers. Some will just follow you, whatever you say, and some will demand some resistance in the story. I always struggle where to place “the list” of suspects, in a way. That’s a lot of work for me, but I want it to be intricate.

CJR:     For you, it’s a matter of estimating the level of investment the reader wants to make, or how much work the reader wants to put in. I think most readers of detective fiction read it precisely to get their gears going, and they sort of appreciate complications. And it’s never a question for you of plausibility? Because real life simply isn’t this complicated. That’s not a consideration for you?

KOD:     No, no. I belong to the old generation. I mean, when I was young, I had a deep respect for crime fiction, but this respect is disappearing among readers today, because they want it to be just easy, easy going. They just want to eat it, like on the airplane. I want it to be complex.

CJR:     Yes, right. Oh, I understand completely.

KOD:     I know I lose a lot of readers, but I don’t care.

CJR:     This has been a complaint since William Wordsworth wrote Lyrical Ballads. People are just reading this sensational, what does he say, “sickly German tragedies.” He wants to give them more fiber in their diet, something that’s harder to digest.

Getting back to Venice and your guidebook to Venice and your love of art, I noticed that art and art objects play an important role in both The Fourth Man, and in, obviously, The Man in the Window. And isn’t there even this rich guy, Narveson, in The Fourth Man who watches as Frank Frolich burns the Venetian artist Bellini’s Madonna and Child, douses it with cognac and sets it aflame before his eyes, to teach him what it feels like to burn someone alive, because Narveson loves art more than people. So, you seem to be particularly interested in art, I mean, paintings, sculptures, objects d’art, physical and visual art. Where does that come from, and how does that play a role in your books?

KOD:     Yeah, because it has to do with obsessions. I mean, beauty. We like to look at beautiful women, and we like to look at beautiful things, so I think it’s a deliberate choice, art, and also, more and more, food needs a place, because I wanted the books to be filled with those kinds of things, so I always try to find a place for them.

CJR:     It’s just that you enjoy writing about these things, and describing them?

KOD:     Uh huh, but in The Fourth Man, Narveson’s obsession for art is reflecting his obsession for the woman.

CJR:     Ah, right, sure. Of course, when Frolich burns the Madonna and Child, he’s teaching Narveson a lesson in burning the person he, Frolich, thinks is Elizabeth, but it turns out to be this other woman—which sort of makes the whole thing ironic, doesn’t it? At one point, in The Man in the Window, Ingrid, Reidar’s widow, has some things to say about objects that we surround ourselves with. She says, “The objects we surround ourselves with signal who we are,” and that this is a problem with Norwegians, particularly. She says, “We don’t understand the significance of being surrounded by beauty. Look at our churches,” and she talks about Protestantism. She says, “If we had cathedrals in this country, I’m sure we should have had a healthier relationship with religion. The things you like, the things you surround yourself with, say something about the person.” You’re saying you just enjoy writing about the beautiful things, but don’t they have more importance than that?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think she has a point.

CJR:     It strikes me that in a passage like this you are really speaking almost directly to the reader.

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, but, I mean there are other aspects to it. If you start talking about religion, you are talking about beauty and Protestantism, too, I mean, like here in Oslo. You have been staying here, but if you’ve been to the West Coast for instance—if you’re in a small village in Norway, there’s a lot of ugliness.

CJR:     And up north, particularly, but it seems to me that, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s a function of the recent appearance of these settlements.

KOD:     Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cities were burned and destroyed by the Nazis and had to be rebuilt quickly. Ingrid has a point in that there’s a lack of beauty in the Norwegian culture, I think, because of becoming rich.

CJR:     I was going to say, though, with respect to churches, the ancient stave churches wouldn’t come under that.

KOD:     They are beautiful, yeah.

CJR:     They are simply beautiful, but does it have to do with the fact that they’ve survived so long, or is it something about the architecture itself?

KOD:     Maybe because the architecture is so basic, in a way. It’s the wood and how they fit it together.

CJR:     Except for the dragons up there!

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. They are simply beautiful, but I think it also has to do with age, because it reflects history, this carving, quite a lot, so you will be humble when you see that.

CJR:     This is something that struck you, I guess, particularly about Venice when you visited there?

KOD:     Yeah, yeah.

CJR:     Of course, they had this enormous Renaissance. And that doesn’t happen every century.

KOD:     No, no, no, and it makes a difference, the history. I mean, the collection of beauty is just astonishing.

CJR:     And it was all financed by these ruthless families. When you talk about a healthier relationship with religion, does religious feeling play a role in your work or your life?

KOD:     Yes.

CJR:     Are you devout? Are you a devout Christian?

KOD:     A Christian in Norway? No, no, no. I mean, I was baptized and everything, but growing older, I have a more humble view of religion. I like the mystery, what we don’t know. It’s always important to write about life and death, so the mysticism around death is what I’m more and more fascinated by, and life, of course. I think it’s kind of a matter of getting older, getting more mature, maybe?

CJR:     Is this reflected in the evolution of Gunnerstranda?

KOD:     Yeah.

CJR:     He’s becoming sort of a deeper—

KOD:     Yeah, more reflective, and still sort of deadpan, but a bit more philosophical.

CJR:     A different question: are you generally satisfied with your translations into English? I mean, you’ve got a brilliant translator there in Don Bartlett, but do you feel—

KOD:     I hated the title The Last Fix, but that was not the translator, that was the English publisher, because they wanted to make it stronger.

CJR:     What is the Norwegian title?

KOD:     It’s A Small Golden Ring. [laughter]

CJR:     Yeah, I think the publisher’s got a point. [laughter]

KOD:     Yeah. I read a little bit in the translation, maybe, but I know this translator, Don Bartlett. We are good friends, and always talk about when he has a challenge in translating the books.

CJR:     Are there concepts in Norwegian society that don’t translate well, from what you can tell, into either the British or American idiom?

KOD:     I’ve experienced difficulties with German translators. I once realized they cut a part of a book, two or three pages, because they felt it was not translatable.

CJR:    Two or three pages?

KOD:     Yes.

CJR:     You mean because the feelings were not translatable?

KOD:     I think it’s from The Last Fix. I don’t remember.. Maybe it’s The Man in the Window, where this person talks about an experience in a restaurant where he’s touched by a young boy. He has a homoerotic kind of experience, yes. And he tells a story about a Norwegian actor, and the German translator, she said, “I cannot put this name of this actor in this book,” and I said, “Why not?” “Because nobody knows his name.” Then, she said, “I want to change this name with a name that Germans know.” I said, “What kind of name?” She said, “Willy Brandt”! [laughter] I said, “No, forget it,” and then they just dropped the scene entirely.

CJR:     Right. Readers would be scratching their heads and asking, “Is this some comment on German society?” There’s a story in Jo Nesbo’s recently translated first book, The Bat, about an actor in a circus, I think, or on stage. There’s no problem there with using the real name of the actor, except that this would be a problem for Norwegian readers, because that book’s set in Australia.

Could I ask you just one more question on my list, and this may be a misimpression of mine, but it looks to me as though there was a takeoff, a sudden rise, in crime writing in Norwegian, or by Norwegian writers, in the early 1990s. Does this make sense? When you started, and I think Anne Holt started?

KOD:     Yeah, and Karin Fossum.

CJR:     Is there something that happened in Norwegian culture, or society, or politically, around that time?

KOD:     No, I don’t think so. I think things just happened, because in Sweden, you have Henning Mankel in early 1990, and he was carrying on the Wallender stories with success. Mankel was an international success. Then, I think it was just an interest for these kinds of books, maybe. I don’t think it was any political things that happened.

CJR:     How long has the oil wealth been part of Norwegian society? Has that been going on for a long time now, or was there something that happened in the ’90s especially? Because it seems to come up over and over again, that this society isn’t what it used to be, that we’ve lost touch with our traditions, we’re more materialistic.

KOD:     Yeah, yeah. Maybe that’s a point. You see, they started to drill in the early ’70s, and then there was a big bank crisis in the early ’90s, and the Norwegian financial crisis that you had in the 2000s. The Norwegian banks went almost bankrupt in ’91, ’92. And then the real estate market almost collapsed.

CJR:     So, maybe there was a kind of connection where people looked around and said, “What have we become,” or, “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

KOD:     Then, in ’93, ’94, the crisis was over, and the great wave of wealth started. Maybe it’s a point. In fact, in that period in ’92, my wife and I, we bought a very fancy house for almost nothing because of the bank crisis.

CJR:     Is that where you live now?

KOD:     No. I ended up outside the city, many years later.

CJR:     One more question. Does nearly everyone, every family, in Norway have, what do you call it, a summer home? Is it called a hytte?

KOD:     It would be, yes.

CJR:     They’re all over the country, apparently.

KOD:     Yeah, because in Norway the middle-class people have a lot of money, and they have these summerhouses. Someone can buy a house in Italy for the same price.

CJR:     But they prefer to have them in Norway.

KOD:     Yeah, for winter sports, or on the coastline to the south, or Sandefjord. It’s a part of Norwegian culture, in a way, to have these summer homes. Hytte, we call it. Cottage. It’s not for everybody, because you have to like to be alone.

CJR:     Do you have one?

KOD:     No, I live on a farm, so I don’t.

CJR:     Oh, you do? Farms must be pretty near the city here in Norway.

KOD:     Yeah. It’s a one-hour drive.

CJR:     Do you farm?

KOD:     Yeah.

CJR:     What do you raise?

KOD:     My wife makes plants for selling, and we have some sheep. My father and my grandfather had this place.

CJR:     Your father, the journalist, had a farm, and you grew up on the farm?

KOD:     It was my grandfather’s, and then it was my uncle’s, but my uncle did not have any children, so my father took it when he was a pensionist.

CJR:     When he retired?

KOD:     Yeah. Did you live at the farm at all?

KOD:     No. I grew up here in Oslo.

CJR:     Oh, I see. Then, your father took it over when he retired, after you grew up. Do you shear your own sheep?

KOD:     My wife does.

CJR:     She must be very sturdy.

KOD:     It’s hard for her. But it’s not many. We have only 30. I’m writing, and she’s also working, so it’s more to keep the farm going.

CJR:     Have you set any of your books in a farming community?

KOD:     Yes, more or less, some, because I think that’s a part of Norwegian society, part city, part rural. I mean, the police series is in Oslo.

CJR:     Well, I have no more questions. Do you have anything you want to add, or disavow?

KOD:     No, but I think these were very good questions. It was very interesting to talk with you.

CJR:     Thank you. Thanks very much. It was a real a pleasure for me.


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