Ester looks around. The world hasn’t changed. People on the pavements are scurrying to and fro. Outside the entrance to Christiania Steam Kitchen a woman is sweeping. A barber is putting a sign outside his shop. This is what dying is like, she thinks. You have gone and the world doesn’t care. You die and others eat pastries. She keeps walking with her hands on the handlebars, and all she can feel is the cold. … A woman carrying a shopping net emerges from the subway under Folketeateret. Out of the corner of her eye, Ester registers the buxom figure. A familiar sight. The waddle, the arm outstretched as if for balance, and the funny hat. It is Ada, who lives across the corridor from her.

Ada approaches, clasps her arm and tells Ester not to go home. … ‘Have you somewhere to go?’ she whispers. ‘To hide from the police?’

Ester racks her brain, nods. ‘I think so.’

Ada gives her a hug.”


Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Courier is a tense, rather beautifully penned read. Set in a particularly challenging and problematic period of twentieth-century history, one that still makes people uncomfortable, it focuses on the comparatively less covered Nazi occupation of Norway during the Second World War, and its impact on a group of characters from the 1940s to the early twenty-first century.

When Jewish courier Ester is forced to leave her homeland, after watching her father be arrested, she goes to Sweden. There, she re-encounters Gerhard Falkum, Resistance legend and partner of Åse, Ester’s childhood friend, and father of the couple’s baby  daughter, Turid. Gerhard has also had to flee Norway, leaving Turid behind, after being accused of murdering Åse by the Gestapo.

Almost twenty-five years later, Gerhard, who was reported to have been killed during the war, turns up in Norway wanting to see his daughter. He also wants to solve Åse’s murder, which he maintains he didn’t commit. But his return raises many questions – where has he been and what has he been doing for all these years? And if he really didn’t kill Åse, just who did?

A tightly plotted, fast-paced book, The Courier endorses why Dahl is such an acclaimed novelist. Written in the present tense, with the result that we are always totally immersed in the action, whether in 1942, 1967 or 2015, Dahl’s tale is authentic, the terror, brutality and loneliness of war painstakingly portrayed. The precision of his writing and his evocation of place call to mind the great Frederick Forsyth.

Another score for Orenda.




The Courier | Kjell Ola Dahl | Orenda Books | 21 March 2019 | paperback original | £8.99 | English translation Don Barlett |

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Acknowledgements: Quoted book text © Kjell Ola Dahl 2015; English translation © Don Bartlett 2018. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour – many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and the publisher for sending us a book proof and jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.




Also of interest: Falling from the Floating World’; ‘Blood Orange’; Beton Rouge’; ‘Gallowstree Lane‘; The Lost Man‘; ‘Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.