I was lucky enough to read a copy of The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl earlier this year when lovely Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books sent me a copy just before Christmas. I devoured it. It is a wonderful book set in Norway during World War 2 and it features spies, strong female characters who propel the story along and a boat load of history. I love books set during World War 2 and particularly like reading about what was life was like in other countries at this time. I had no idea that Norway was occupied, that so many of its Jewish inhabitants were sent to concentration camps and that there was a flourishing underground resistance network until I read The Courier. This book really opened my eyes to the social and political history of Norway and it did so whilst enthralling me in a spy thriller wrapped up in a great big dollop of Nordic Noir. You can read my full review here but before you do, I am kicking off the Blog Tour today with an extract to whet your appetite. Enjoy. 😁
About The Book
In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family 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, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend. A relationship develops between them, but 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 Turid. 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…
When at last she hears some noise in the kitchen, Ester pulls at the cord to the spring and lets go. The blackout blind rolls up with a bang. But the room is no lighter. It is still grey outside, neither night nor day. An October morning. She swings her legs out of bed. Sits for a while, staring vacantly into the air before getting up, collecting her clothes from the armchair and going into the kitchen.
Åse is sitting at the table, breastfeeding.
‘Not really, no. I didn’t sleep a wink all night.’ Ester goes to the sink and fills a glass of water from the tap. She puts down the glass and stares at the wall. Not wanting to express her worst thoughts: that she stopped on the way, that she might have arrived at Kirkeristen earlier, that things would be different if she didn’t keep making mistakes. But then she feels Åse’s eyes on her. ‘What is it?’ Ester asks.
‘You’re completely out of it. Didn’t you hear?’
‘I said I’ve heated some ersatz coffee.’
Ester smiles, but is not interested. ‘You know, I was never very fond of proper coffee either.’
She can see her father’s eyes through the bars in the iron door; this image has haunted her all night.
Åse passes her a jug. It contains hot water. Ester takes the jug back to her room and fills the bowl in the corner. Looks at herself in the narrow mirror perched on the dressing table against the wall. She warms her hands in the hot water, splashes a little over her face and wishes she had her toothbrush with her. Lost in thought again, she manages to drag herself away and put on woollen stockings, a skirt, a blouse and a jumper.
When they are sitting either side of the table afterwards, she says ying awake and thinking has in fact been useful.
Åse is sympathetic. ‘What do you think they’ll do?’
Ester is at a loss to know what to say. This is not something she wants to talk about.
‘To your father.’
Ester doesn’t wish to speculate. She has been wondering about it all night. Perhaps it will boil down to a charge connected with his business; perhaps they questioned him for a few hours, then let him go. These thoughts went through her mind, but with little conviction, because the sign on the window told a different story. Eviction from his home, the closing down of the shop. What hap pened the day before was a further turn of the screw. Ester cannot convince herself it will be the last.
Åse squeezes her hand.
They exchange looks.
Ester says that now, for her, there is only one solution. ‘I have to get to Sweden. As soon as possible.’
Åse places Turid over her shoulder to burp her. Pats her little back gently. No burp. She stands up and swings round, but the child shakes her head; she’s not in tune with her mother’s plan.
‘Are you sure?’
Ester has never been surer of anything. ‘They say we don’t own our possessions. My father’s driven off in a police van, and they barred the doors of the shop with iron chains. It’s only a question of time before they come for me.’
Åse is silent.
They look at each other again, and Ester doesn’t know what to say to lighten the atmosphere.
‘But how will you get to Sweden?’
‘The people I talked about, in Carl Berners plass. But I need money. Clothes. I have to go home and pack. Dad doesn’t need his money now.’
‘What if—?’ Ester interrupts her. ‘I have to do this!’
She can hear how harsh and irritated her voice is. But she has had
enough of talking now, and gets up and goes into the hallway. Finds her shoes. Slips her feet in. Goes out to the stairwell. The toilet is free. She enters, fastens the hook on the door and leans against it. Some things can be said. Not everything, though. When Ester is overcome by despair, like now, she stands and waits for it to pass. The walls in the little room appear to be pulsating. She sits down on the seat. What happened the previous day is a link in a longer chain that started years before. What she has to do today is react while she still can. She has to defy them, she has to go home and pack, get ready for the journey.
Ester glances at her watch. Sees that she has to hurry.
She leaves the toilet and goes back to the flat, into the kitchen. Washes her hands in the sink, then takes the suitcase containing the newspapers.
‘Are you sure you want to do that today, Ester?’
Åse has put Turid down.
‘I can’t not do it. Someone’s waiting for me.’ Ester gives her friend a hug. It turns into a long embrace.
Åse swallows. ‘Will I see you before you go?’
They look at each other, and Ester senses that she has to be honest.
‘I don’t know.’
Neither of them speaks. Åse’s eyes are moist and shiny.
Ester picks up the suitcase. ‘In a way it’s wonderful too, knowing this is the last time. I’m afraid I have to go.’
Then she is out of the door.
About The Author
Kjell Ola Dahl
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 eleven 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.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join the Blog Tour for The Courier. The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl is published on the 21st March in paperback and is available now in ebook.