Friday, 12 April 2019

Kjell Ola Dahl on The Courier

The Courier is about a murder in a country at war. One of my earlier crime novels, The Man in the Window, also featured the occupation of Norway during WWII, and when I was doing my research I learned a lot about how the German authorities delivered justice and coped with crime in the country. It was partly this research that inspired The Courier, in which the murder victim is closely connected with the resistance movement. My initial idea was that the investigation into such a crime – at such a time – would automatically be influenced by politics; and I liked how a search for truth would inevitably be infected by lies. 

Another inspiration for The Courier was the Norwegian Holocaust; I particularly wanted to write about the fact that it was planned, organised and performed solely by Norwegian Nazis. The Germans were not involved in the arrests; their involvement only started with the transportation of Jews from Norway to Auschwitz. 

The choice of 1942 as one of the timeframes for the book was therefore natural, as the arrest of the Jews and their transport from Norway to the gas chambers was conducted in the autumn of that year, and at the same time, a lot of Norwegian Jews escaped. 1942 is also one of the most interesting years of WWII, because it was then that Hitler made his fatal decision to attack the Soviet Union, an invasion that had serious implications for the resistance movement in Norway. 

What I really wanted to do with this book was write a story of revenge. I like to think that people's choices are affected by things that have happened to them previously in their lives – it’s a Freudian thing. I wanted to explore how things that happened during WWII had implications for the characters much later. But I also wanted the present day to feature in the book, so I decided my protagonist had to around twenty in 1942. In the sixties she would be in her forties, which I liked, because she is mature by then, has developed a stronger will, but at the same time she is not old and could therefore still be searching for a direction in her life. 

Ester as a character was mainly inspired by a man I once knew. His family were all killed in the gas chambers, but he managed to flee – first to Sweden in 1942, then to Scotland, where he was trained as a saboteur. He was then sent on commando raids behind enemy lines in Norway. However, I was more interested in his personality than his wartime history, as I did not want to write a soldier’s tale, and that is one of the reasons I decided my protagonist had to be a woman. I also liked how her gender made her somewhat distant from me, the writer; it made her more mysterious. 

I chose the other main timeline to be 1967. The sixties reflect the forties in one way: there was a war then too, but it was a cold war, with new frontlines. Twenty-five years have passed since 1942, and those years have affected all the characters in various ways. Ester’s life after WWII is a mystery, as is Gerhard's life after the war, and the lives of Markus and Sverre. 

Writing about the same characters in two layers of time – one when they are younger, idealistic and a bit innocent, and one when they all are shaped by life – was truly inspirational. I found they were all different people in 1967 from the ones they were in 1942. I had to explore what had happened to them after 1942, what directions their lives had taken, and of course how the fate of Åse – the murder victim in 1942 – had shaped the people they eventually become. 

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (Published by Orenda Press)
In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Ase, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.  And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive...

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