Review: The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum


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Mantle, 2014. Format: Kindle edition. File Size: 572 KB. Print Length: 288 pages. Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Originally published in 2010 as Menneskefluene by Cappelen Damm, Oslo. ISBN: 978-0-230-76952-6. ASIN: B00JL58DM2.

human-flies-978144723276601

The story is narrated in the first person by Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen, known as K2. The action begins on 4 April, 1968 when K2 is summoned to investigate a murder. The victim, Harald Olesen, was found shot to death in his house at number 25 on Kreb Street. He was an old man with terminal cancer who had only a few months to live, but he had been a prominent politician and a legendary hero of the Resistance. The circumstances of his death are quite bizarre. The door of his flat was closed and, once opened, the murder weapon could not be found. Further more, there was no evidence that, another living person, had been in the flat, or any indication of how the murderer could have left the scene of the crime. K2 soon realises that the murderer must be one of the other tenants of the building and perhaps the explanation of the crime could be found  in events that took place during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany. During the course of the investigation, K2 will count with the priceless and disinterested assistance of Patricia Louise Borchmann, an extremely intelligent young woman who lives confined to a wheelchair.

The Human Flies, is the debut novel of Norwegian author Hans Olav Lahlum. It is also the first in a series that has at least two other titles Satellite People (Satelittmenneskene) in 2011 and The Catalyst Killing (Katalysatormordet) in 2012.  The book title refers to an expression coined by Patricia to refer to ‘…. people who at some point in their lives have experienced something so painful and traumatic that they never get over it. They become human flies and spend more or less the rest of their life circling around what happened.’ It can also be noted that the novel has the classical structure of a Golden Age mystery book. There’s a crime with all the features of a locked room mystery, and a limited number of possible suspects. Each and every one of the potential suspects has something to hide. Finally, the main investigator and his sidekick, solve the mystery by bringing together all the parties involved. 

I recognise that The Human Flies is an entertaining novel. The story is compelling, the plot is well developed and I have found quite interesting the historical reference to a dark period in the recent past of Norway. I just wonder if the author has made the right decision in choosing a Golden Age mystery format to tell his story and to whether the first person narrative is what best fits the plot development. But obviously this extremes may just be a matter of taste. And, in these questions, everyone is entitled to have a different opinion. Besides I must not judge a book based only on my personal preferences.  All in all, I will make no secret of the fact of having spent a good time reading this novel.

My rating: B (I really liked it)

Hans Olav Lahlum (born 12 September 1973) has a master degree in history from the University of Oslo and has published several books about Norwegian and American politics. He is also a chess player, politician and has written feature stories for several big newspapers in Norway. Human Flies (In Norwegian: Menneskefluene) is his first crime novel.

The Human Flies has been reviewed at Crime pieces (Sarah), Shotsmag, Crime Fiction Lover, and at Amazon Customer Review by Simon Clarke.

Pan Macmillan 

Hans Olav Lahlum at Icelandnoir

The Human Flies de Hans Olav Lahlum

La historia está narrada en primera persona por el Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen, conocido como K2. La acción comienza el 4 de abril de 1968 cuando K2 es llamado a investigar un asesinato. La víctima, Harald Olesen, fue encontrada muerta a tiros en su casa en el número 25 de la calle de Krebs. Se trataba de un hombre mayor con un cáncer terminal al que sólo le quedaban unos pocos meses de vida, pero había sido un destacado político y un héroe legendario de la Resistencia. Las circunstancias de su muerte son bastante extrañas. La puerta de su piso se encontraba cerrada y, una vez abierta, no se pudo encontrar el arma homicida. Más aún, no había pruebas de que, otra persona viva hubiera estado en el piso, o de cualquier indicación de cómo el asesino podría haber abandonado la escena del crimen. K2 pronto se da cuenta de que el asesino debe ser uno de los inquilinos del edificio y que tal vez la explicación del crimen se pueda encontrar en acontecimientos que tuvieron lugar durante la ocupación de Noruega por la Alemania nazi. Durante el curso de la investigación, K2 contará con la ayuda inestimable y desinteresada de Patricia Louise Borchmann, una joven muy inteligente que vive confinada en  una silla de ruedas.

The Human Flies, es la primera novela del autor noruego Hans Olav Lahlum. También es la primera de una serie que consta de, al menos, otros dos títulos Satellite People (Satelittmenneskene) en el 2011 y The Catalyst Killing (Katalysatormordet) en el 2012. El título del libro se refiere a una expresión acuñada por Patricia para referirse a ‘…. personas que, en algún momento de sus vidas, han experimentado algo tan doloroso y traumático que nunca superarán. Se convierten en moscas humanas y pasan más o menos el resto de su vida dando vueltas alrededor de lo que pasó.’ También se puede señalar que la novela tiene la estructura clásica de un libro de misterio de la Edad de Oro. Un delito que reúne todas las características de un enigma de habitación cerrada, y con un número limitado de posibles sospechosos. Todos y cada uno de los sospechosos potenciales tiene algo que ocultar. Por último, el investigador principal y su compañero, resuelven el misterio reuniendo a todas las partes involucradas.

Reconozco que The Human Flies es una novela entretenida. La historia es atractiva, la trama está bien desarrollada y he encontrado muy interesante la referencia histórica a un período oscuro en el pasado reciente de Noruega. Me pregunto si el autor ha tomado la decisión correcta al elegir el formato de la Edad de Oro de la novela policíaca para contar su historia y si la narración en primera persona es la que mejor encaja en el desarrollo de la trama. Pero obviamente esto extremos pueden ser sólo una cuestión de gusto. Y, en estas cuestiones, todo el mundo tiene derecho a tener una opinión diferente. Además no debo juzgar un libro basado sólo en mis preferencias personales. Con todo, no voy a hacer ningún secreto del hecho de haber pasado un buen rato leyendo esta novela.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Hans Olav Lahlum (nacido el 12 de septiembre 1973) tiene un master en historia por la Universidad de Oslo y ha publicado varios libros sobre política noruega y estadounidense. Es también jugador de ajedrez, político y ha escrito artículos de fondo para varios importantes periódicos de Noruega. The Human Flies (en noruego: Menneskefluene) es su primera novela policíaca.

17 thoughts on “Review: The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum

    • Thank you very much Sarah. Certainly you have enjoyed this book more than me. In any case I found this book attractive. And I look forward to reading your review of Satellite People.

  1. The book sounds very interesting. I would like to read it someday, but it is not available in the US yet, so I can wait awhile to add it to my TBR piles.

    I look forward to Sarah’s review of the next book in the series also.

  2. Ooh, you’ve definitely whetted my appetite for this one Jose. The storyline really appeals – as you say, it harks back to Golden Age mysteries, and anything to do with the Norwegian occupation interests me. I remember reading The Moon Is Down in school, and for a set text really enjoying it. Also, I think The Return Of The Dancing Master has echoes of the occupation – Sarah can confirm if I’m right as she picked it as one of her fave Nordic Noir books in a list somewhere – I recall nodding approvingly! Look forward to Sarah’s review of the second in the trilogy. Super review (not so good for the TBR though!) Thanks Jose!

      • I did notice you’d read The Hunting Dogs – which I have – and I thought this was on the shortlist so I suspected that was your plan! Seems a great shortlist, there’s not one that doesn’t appeal. I wish I didn’t have so many “must reads” or I would join you and we could see if either of us gets it right. When’s the winner announced? I also have The Caveman, which Sarah’s review made irresistible – plan to read it v soon! This book, though, is highly appealing!

      • Linda, the winning title will be announced at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 14-17 May 2015. The award will be presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series.
        My understanding is that The Caveman will be eligible for next year award. According to the Award rules the novels must be published in English in the UK during the preceding calendar year.

      • Seeing The Hunting Dogs on this year’s list, I thought maybe The Caveman would be eligible for the next one. That date means I might have time to sneak most of the list in – but you have to read them all, don’t you?! Otherwise the one you DON’T read will win! I’m half heartedly trying to get through The Bailey’s Shortlist For Women’s Fiction, but some of it is a bit, we, literary for me. I don’t think I’m well-educated enough! But that’s just under 5 weeks, so, technically, do-able. I’m reading a lot, but struggling to write reviews!

    • Sorry, that’s what I meant, this year’s shortlist is, technically do-able – that’s the list I intended to read, like you. Sorry for not being clearer! No I’d never even be able to figure out all the possible!

      • I’m tempted to try this year’s shortlist as, from your reviews and other sources, they sound excellent. And I missed out a word in my last comment – I meant to say “possible titles”! But I’ve so many great books here I should be reading! I’m doing the same book as you AGAIN for Past Offences – it’s a purely financial decision, as it saves money to do a book you already have! And I’m still working on last month’s review!

  3. Pingback: 2015 Petrona Award Shortlist: A personal opinion | The Game's Afoot

  4. Pingback: #55: The Human Flies (2010) by Hans Olav Lahlum [trans. Kari Dickson 2014] | The Invisible Event

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