The Ice Swimmer

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by Kjell Ola Dahl

Murder mixed with politics, greed and a lust for power make a toxic cocktail in this nordic noir novel.

Oslo detective Lena Stigersand and her colleague Chief Inspector Gunnarstranda are faced with three baffling murders.

Lena is assigned to the drowning of Sveinung Adeler, 31, off the City Hall Quay. He wasn’t robbed of his expensive Tissot Chronograph watch nor his full wallet. Nor was he drunk, according to the pathology report. The only clues are faint signs that he was held under freezing water with a piece of lumber and died around 5:30 a.m.

Adeler, it turns out, worked in the Norwegian Finance Office. His job was to investigate companies that the Norwegian Oil Fund might invest in to be sure that they met the government’s ethical standards.

A journalist, Steffen Gjerstad, feeds one of Lena’s colleagues  information that Adeler had had dinner with Parliament member Aud Helen Vestgärd and an unidentified man the night before he drowned.

Gunnarstranda has a case of different sort: Nina Stenshagen apparently threw herself in front of a subway train. The odd thing is that a subway train conductor saw two people in the tunnel between stations and notified his superiors. The system was shut down; a search was done; no one was found. So the trains were started again.

That’s when Nina’s body fell in front of a train. Shortly after, the alarm for a tunnel exit goes off. Investigators learn that Nina once was a subway driver before her drug habit took over. A review of security camera footage shows her being pursued by an unidentifiable man. Both cross the platform and disappear into the tunnel.

Gunnarstranda tracks down Nina’s one-time partner Stig Eriksen. Reluctant at first, Eriksen eventually agrees to meet with Gunnarstanda. Before Gunnarstranda arrives, Stig is shot and killed.

This twisted and bleak police procedural is set against the Christmas season in Oslo. Between dealing with killers, liars and the secretiveness of the Norwegian police security service, Lena and Gunnarstranda are buying presents, setting up Christmas decorations and preparing traditional dishes.

The light and goodwill of the season are a stark contrasts to the heartless people and forces Lena and Gunnarstranda are pursuing.

Lena also is dealing with the discovery that she has breast cancer. She struggles between losing herself in work, isolating herself from her colleagues and throwing in the towel to focus on her own health and well-being.

The Ice Swimmer is absorbing. The descriptions of Oslo at Christmas time alone is worth reading the book for. In this book, Lena dominates the story rather than Gunnarstranda, who is the focus of earlier books in this series.

The other books in this series that have been translated into English are:
  • The Fourth Man (2007)
  • The Man in the Window (2008)
  • The Last Fix (2009), which won Norway’s prestigious Riverton-risen for Best Norwegian Crime Novel of the Year and was nominated for various other prizes.
  • Lethal Investments (2011)
  • Faithless (2017)

About the Author: Kjell Ola Dahl (1958 – )

Norwegian Kjell Ola Dahl is best known for his (currently) 11 Nordic noir crime series novels featuring Oslo detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda. Six of these have been published in English, with translations by Don Bartlett.

He known for his skepticism about modern society. His character Gunnarstranda has achieved an almost iconic status in Norway. The city of Oslo has a strong presence in Dahl’s novels as well.

His first published novel was Dødens Investeringer (Lethal Investments) in 1993. He has since written more than a dozen novels, numerous short stories, several nonfiction books and two screenplays, written with writer/director Hisham Zaman.
He is sometimes known professionally as K. O. Dahl.


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