#BlogTour #BookReview Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl @RandomTTours

Little Drummer Graphic 1Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated by Don Bartlett. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda for my digital review copy.

Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Monika at Monika Reads.

About the Book

When a woman is found dead in her car in a Norwegian parking garage, everyone suspects an overdose… until a forensics report indicates that she was murdered. Oslo Detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda discover that the victim’s Kenyan scientist boyfriend has disappeared, and their investigations soon lead them into the shady world of international pharmaceutical deals.

While Gunnarstranda closes in on the killers in Norway, Frølich and Lise, his new journalist ally, travel to Africa, where they make a series of shocking discoveries about exploitation and corruption in the distribution of foreign aid and essential HIV medications.

When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, all three investigators face incalculable danger, spanning two continents. And not everyone will make it out alive…

Format: Paperback (276 pages)    Publisher: Orenda
Publication date: 26th May 2022 Genre: Crime

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My Review

My first introduction to Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich was in Faithless which I read back in 2017. (I also read the author’s historical crime novel, The Assistant, last year.) Although Little Drummer is the fourth book of the author’s Gunnarstranda and Frølich series to be published in English, it was first published in 2003 – hence the reference to passengers on an airplane watching films on overhead screens! It therefore pre-dates events in Faithless and the other two books in the series published by Orenda – Sister and The Ice Swimmer. (Do try to keep up.)  Although you would miss out on learning more about the backstories of Gunnarstranda and Frølich by not having read previous books (personally I remain unsure about the nature of Gunnarstranda’s relationship with Tove), I certainly think Little Drummer can be enjoyed as a standalone crime novel.

Initially an investigation into an apparent suicide that turns out to be murder, and a separate missing persons enquiry, it’s not long before Little Drummer is transformed from police procedural to international thriller as the action moves from Oslo to Kenya. Whilst pursuing separate lines of inquiry Gunnarstranda and Frølich gradually unearth a web of financial corruption involving insider dealing, the use of shell companies and speculation on risky ventures. When individuals are playing for such high stakes, those who might threaten their enterprise are expendable.

Gunnarstranda and Frølich slowly gather together the pieces of what becomes a frustratingly complex jigsaw. As Gunnarstranda remarks, ‘Following clues after a murder is like gathering the fragments of a dream. It’s all about finding pieces of some surrealistic act and trying to make them fit into a comprehensible picture’. It’s a puzzle which sees them forced to co-operate with others whose motives are not always clear. Frølich in particular finds himself in unfamiliar territory – and unexpected company – when he flies to Kenya to follow leads about the missing scientist.

What I really enjoy about the books is the partnership between Gunnarstranda and Frølich, both on a personal and professional level. Frølich, whilst pondering on his history of failed relationships, always keeps an eye out for his boss, trying to persuade Gunnarstranda to modify his unhealthy habits (even hiding his tobacco at one point). Little Drummer finds Gunnarstranda in particularly melancholy mood, pondering on his own mortality as his lifestyle shows signs of taking its toll. As he admits, he’s ‘a neurotic, work-obsessed, socially dysfunctional man with poor self-knowledge’, not to mention a chain smoker and a whisky drinker.

Although Gunnarstranda and Frølich’s investigation goes to some dark places, exposing some of the inequalities that exist in the world, there are also moments of humour. For example, when Frølich observes a guest at his hotel who is so drunk he passes out with his face in a plate of spaghetti or, my absolute favourite, the incessant, inane chatter of Frølich’s mother and her friend Edna when he gives them a lift in his car.

With its combination of intricate plot and exciting moments of drama, Little Drummer is a skilfully-crafted crime thriller that will keep you turning the pages.

In three words: Tense, dark, compelling

Try something similar: The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer

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DahlKjellOlaAbout 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 thirteen novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers 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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#BookReview Lean on Me by Serge Joncour @BelgraviaB

Lean On MeAbout the Book

When a flock of crows invades their shared apartment block, farmer-turned-debt collector Ludovic and fashion designer Aurore speak for the first time. With nothing but the birds in common, the two are destined for separate lives, yet are drawn inexplicably together.

With one trapped in an unhappy marriage and the other lost in grief, the city of love has brought each of them only isolation and pain. As Aurore faces losing her business and Ludovic questions the ethics of his job, they begin a passionate affair. Love between such different people seems doomed to failure, but for these two unhappy souls trapped in ruthless worlds, perhaps loving one another is the greatest form of resistance.

Format: Paperback (384 pages)     Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 3rd March 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

The menacing crows that inhabit the courtyard of the Paris apartment block where Aurore lives with her family reflect the current turmoil in her life. ‘The two crows embodied all the fears that were crowding in on her, everything that was going wrong, the mounting debts, her business partner who no longer spoke to her.’ Richard, Aurore’s husband, is distant and seemingly oblivious to her concerns about her business and the employees who depend on her. Making frequent trips abroad and spending more time on his phone making deals than listening to her, Richard thinks only in terms of numbers whereas, for Aurore, her design business is a very personal thing; apart from anything else, it carries her name.

It’s perhaps no surprise that, contrary to her initial instincts, she finds herself drawn to Ludovic, the neighbour who, unasked, takes practical steps to rid her of one of the problems in her life – the crows.  It’s not the last time he comes to her aid. When all about her seems on the brink of collapse, she comes to perceive Ludovic as unshakeable. ‘Perhaps there was such a thing as a man who could make you feel strong, a stranger who could lift you up when your family no longer even thought of doing so and you didn’t feel you could ask them.’ What’s more Ludovic seems to sense intuitively what Aurore needs without her having to say anything, whether that’s a shoulder to cry on or moral support at a difficult meeting.

Large of build, Ludovic may look unshakeable from the outside but inside he’s still grieving the death of his wife, haunted by the powerlessness he felt during her long illness and the sense that his physical strength served no purpose.  Perhaps that’s partly why he feels driven to help Aurore. She’s ‘a woman in peril’ and maybe this time he can be a saviour.

Paris, the backdrop to the story, is depicted as a teeming metropolis in which it’s possible to feel invisible or a perpetual outsider. That’s the way it seems to Ludovic, brought up in the country but having moved to Paris because he no longer feels there is a place for him in the family business. ‘Paris disturbed him. Since coming to live here, he found himself constantly knocking into people, barging into them without meaning to…’  For Aurore, it’s different. She feels reassured by being at the centre of things, surrounded by other people and absorbing the city’s energy.

I loved the insightful way the author explores the relationship that develops between Ludovic and Aurore. You get a real sense of what it’s like to be in the grip of a grand passion but also in a relationship which must remain secret: the weighing up of risk and reward, living in the moment and blocking out thoughts of the consequences of your actions whilst at the same time knowing you must ultimately face them. Although I could understand and empathise with Aurore’s situation, it was Ludovic who really touched my heart. A man who has grown used to living alone and has reconciled himself to a solitary existence – ‘The trouble with looking so strong was that nobody ever worried about him’ – yet shows infinite compassion for others such as his elderly neighbour. The subtle shift of the balance in the relationship between Aurore and Ludovic is deftly handled. When events reach a crisis point, Aurore realises she can reciprocate the help and protection Ludovic has provided to her.  ‘Ludovic, there’s something I’ve been wanting to say . . . Lean on me.’

I adored Lean on Me and was sad when my time with Aurore and Ludovic came to an end. It’s a love story which feels absolutely authentic and not romanticised in any way. Both Aurore and Ludovic have flaws, make mistakes and act at times without thinking, but that’s what happens in life, isn’t it?

I must praise the skill of the book’s translators, Jane Aitken & Louise Rogers Lalaurie, as the writing flows in such a way that I often had to remind myself I was reading a book originally written in another language. My thanks to Isabelle at Gallic Books for my review copy. I think this is the tenth book I’ve read published by Gallic Books and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

You can read Serge Jouncour’s thoughts here about the book’s themes of isolation and the natural world, as well as learn about the writers he has recently discovered.

In three words: Tender, insightful, moving

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Serge JoncourAbout the Author

Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter. He was born in Paris in 1961 and studied philosophy at university before deciding to become a writer. His first novel, Vu, was published by Le Dilettante in 1998. He wrote the screenplay for Sarah’s Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas, released in 2011.

His 2016 novel Repose-toi sur moi won the Prix Interallié. (Photo/bio: Publisher author page)