Exclusive Interview with Hans Olav Lahlum

Hans Olav Lahlum

“All taken together I guess the book writer can be found somewhere in between K2 and Patricia. All three of us are absolutely necessary for this series to work out.”

Two weeks ago I reviewed the latest novel to be translated into English in Hans Olav Lahlum’s K2 series: The Catalyst Killing. If you’ve read this review then you’ll know how much I’ve enjoyed this novel along with the others in the series. However, I find that when you really get to love a series like I have with this one, there are always questions about the characters or plots that you wish you could ask the author about. I have been fortune enough to have such a moment, with Hans agreeing to answer some of my questions. Hopefully the interview that follows will provide existing fans with some interesting insights into the making of the K2 novels, including a peek at the fourth book in the series currently being translated: The Chameleon People, and will persuade you crazy people who haven’t read him yet to rush to your nearest bookshop or to grab him out of your TBR piles…

K2 Series1. How would you describe Patricia and K2’s relationship?

From the start K2 and Patricia are somehow partners in solving crimes, and the reader can observe some mutual fascination between two very different human beings with a common interest. Gradually their relationship turns closer, but at the same time it also turns more complex. They develop a world of their own when meeting alone in her home to discuss his investigations. For K2 it is a welcome resting room as well as a necessary secret working room. For Patricia it is more of a window to the outside world.

2. How do you think their relationship has developed over the course of the three books?

The first novel is a starter in which K2 takes the help he can get (and desperately needs) for the investigation, while Patricia probably enjoys the case and the possibility to make a difference more than her new friend. Patricia appears relatively relaxed about K2’s attraction to another young woman. In the second novel Patricia has had more time to think and feel about this, and she now shows disapproving signs of K2 enjoying other young women. When the smoke of the investigation has cleared, in the final chapter their relationship for the first time seems close to becoming romantic. What Patricia wants however remains a mystery as K2 chickens out, and remains confused about Patricia as a woman and ambivalent about the idea of a romantic relationship with her. Following another break the third novel takes a dramatic turn as K2 becomes strongly attracted to another young women involved in the investigation, and suspects Patricia of jealousy. It turns out Patricia indeed struggles with jealousy about K2 and this other women, while she is herself in the middle of another sort of emotional crisis. This leads to their hardest confrontation and a breakup of their contact.



3. How would you describe Patricia and K2’s detecting style? Do you think they have any fictional detective parallels, as I know your work, especially The Human Flies has been linked to Agatha Christie?

I use to say that while the main inspiration for the social and historical atmosphere in my first novels comes from Simenon and the main inspiration for the plots comes from Christie, the main inspiration for my detective duo comes from Conan Doyle. From the start the primary inspiration about this was Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Much like Dr Watson, K2 is an open-minded storyteller, keeping the readers well informed about both what he can see and what he thinks about it. His IQ obviously is much lower than Patricia’s and many readers’, but still his contributions and talents should not be underestimated. He is an honest and hardworking policeman, and his Emotional Intelligence probably is quite good, as he is an extrovert man able to communicate confidently with a lot of different people. Patricia, like Sherlock Holmes, is more intellectual and much more of a secret mastermind, asking some mysterious questions while hesitating to reveal her answers until she is sure they are correct. Meanwhile most readers will understand more than K2, but still have a hard time stretching after Patricia’s secret insights. Similarities might be more striking to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, as Patricia like Wolfe hardly ever leaves her home during the investigations. Like Wolfe leaves the footwork outside for Goodwin, Patricia leaves it for K2. Still Patricia takes this a step further and remains much more aloof than Wolfe, as her role remains unknown to the police as well as for the involved persons in the investigations. Apart from K2 she hardly ever lets in guests or speaks directly with involved persons. Besides, K2’s role as a police investigator is a bit different from Goodwin as a private detective assistant. Among my first three novels I still consider Satellite People to be my most Christie-inspired novel, although the inspiration regarding the plots is apparent in both the others novels too.

4. If you had to pick, who is your favourite character? Patricia or K2?

From the start Patricia was some kind of mutation between two close friends of mine, while K2 was inspired by me. Like me, his intelligence is primarily a social and emotional intelligence, and we are both often considered more intelligent than we actually are from an intellectual point of view. Still he is a much more practical man doing many things I could never have done, like driving cars, while I consider myself somewhat superior to him regarding crime plot solutions. Compared to Patricia I am less brilliant, but more extrovert and likeable. All taken together I guess the book writer can be found somewhere in between K2 and Patricia. All three of us are absolutely necessary for this series to work out.

5. What drew you wards choosing the late 1960s/70s as the setting for your novels?

Firstly I had written about Norwegian society from the 1960s/70s in several historical books before I started to write crime fiction, hence I did not have to read that much about this context before I could start writing. Secondly this five year period from 1968 to 1973 was an important transformation period in which many cultural and/or political reforms and changes took place in Norway (like in many other countries), making it a very interesting period to write about in such a series of historical novels. Thirdly I wanted to write from a past distant enough to be exotic for young readers today, but still close enough to be remembered by older readers.  Fourthly for the first novel, 1968 was a practical year as crimes from 1943-45 were still not obsolete, and I could build upon a prehistory from the Second World War without having to make the characters 80-90 years old.

6. Disability is a theme which crops up in your novels. Patricia is confined to a wheelchair and in The Catalyst Killing, a blind woman is a key witness to the events prior to Marie’s death. What role do you think this theme has in your novels?

This is no way accidental. As I have or have had several disabled friends and as I very much believe in an inclusive society, I want to show through my novels how much disabled human beings can do if given the chance, and what a difference they can make. This theme will also return in some of the upcoming novels. Since childhood a “different” man myself, I feel characters in crime novel are too often made to conform and to be normal. Some of my characters are actually based upon “different” human beings I have met. I find it a bit fascinating that some of them are sometimes accused of being too unrealistic for a novel.

7. If you had to sum up your latest book, The Catalyst Killing in a sentence, how would you describe it?

A different historical crime novel starting up with a mysterious catalyst killing at a subway station, and later trying to mix many colourful characters together for a hopefully exciting and interesting showdown.

8. Finally, can you tell us anything about the next book in the series to be translated into English, The Chameleon People? What can readers expect?

My fourth novel Chameleon People makes a flying start as a desperate young cyclist on his old bike spurts into K2’s home just ahead of a group of car driving persecutors. It soon turns out they are policemen, trying to arrest the cyclist after he has escaped from the scene when a well known politician and businessman was stabbed to death in an evening dark city street. The lone cyclist is a boy around age 15 with a lame foot and a speech impediment. The only item found in his pockets is a bloody knife. Still the cyclist’s short explanation is a repeated “I did not kill him”. Although both the identity and motif of the apparently confused boy remain a mystery, his guilt seems obvious for the police force. K2 still feels a bit confused himself and remains in doubt, as his investigation reveals that the victim was a human chameleon, apparently having at least four different personalities. While the arrested boy remains a silent mystery of his own, K2 gradually realizes more chameleon people and more mysteries surround the life of the victim – including a 40 year old but still unsolved death. Although he is now engaged to another woman, K2 under growing pressure tries to resume his secret cooperation with Patricia. She reluctantly accepts to help him, with an investigation that turns into a true drama and ends up changing much for both of them…





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