1970. Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen, known as K2, witnesses a young woman desperately trying to board a train only to have the doors close before her face. The next time he sees her, she is dead ...As K2 investigates, with the help of his precocious young assistant Patricia, he discovers that the story behind Marie Morgenstierne's murder really began two years ago, when a group of politically active young people set out on a walking tour in the mountains. There, one night, the party's charismatic leader - and Marie's boyfriend - Falko Reinhardt vanished without a trace. But were the relationships between this group of friends and comrades all they appeared to be? What did Marie see, that made her run for her life that day? And could both mysteries be linked to Falko's research into a cell of Norwegian Nazis he suspected may still be active? It soon becomes clear that Marie's death is not only a complex case in its own right, but will act as a catalyst in a dark set of events which will leave K2 and Patricia confronting their most dangerous and explosive investigation yet. And as the pair work hard to unravel the clues before Marie's killer can strike again, the detective fails to notice that his young assistant has her own problems to face ...
This is book 3 in a series featuring Detective Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen from Oslo and his young assistant Patricia. Patricia is a wheelchair-bound young woman who is extremely smart and obsessed with mysteries. K2 is the narrator of these stories, which puts him in the Watson role while Patricia is the brilliant amateur sleuth. Or perhaps their relationship is more similar to that of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, where the detective never leaves his home and his assistant does all the legwork. Goodwin however is a much wittier and sharper character than K2. The latter is a man of mediocre intelligence who relies heavily on Patricia, who has already helped him twice in the past, significantly furthering his career.
I really enjoyed the first one in the series, “The Human Flies”, but was a bit underwhelmed by the sequel, “Satellite People”. So, was “The Catalyst Killing” another drop in quality or a return to form? Well, sort of both. While the plot here is more engaging, with the detectives having to figure out how a man could disappear from a cabin in the woods in the middle of the night while he was surrounded by his friends, without leaving any witnesses, the solution to this turns out to be disappointingly mundane. The plot has many layers, but the culprit is relatively obvious from the beginning. Also some of the later story-developments didn’t ring true, especially the final twist requiring too much suspension of disbelief.
One of the criticisms I have seen levelled at this series is, that there is little character-development. And indeed K2 doesn’t seem to have become any smarter. I found it almost unintentionally comical, how K2 had to run to Patricia every time a problem arose, for example inquiring per phone what questions to ask a certain witness, making him seem annoyingly dim-witted. His partner Patricia after three books still remains something of a cypher. We know that she is extremely intelligent, but that’s about it. What does she feel, what does she want, what is going on inside her head?
In his afterword the author mentions, that he intended this this book to be an homage to the works of Ross Macdonald, who in his books turned the crime story into a Greek tragedy, dealing with dark family secrets and devastating personal traumas. However I would never have noticed this, since not only is Lahlum’s writing very different from Macdonald’s (Macdonald among other things was a great prose stylist while Lahlum uses a very simple, dry language), the characters also seem superficial compared to those in the works of the great American.
While I appreciate, that Hans Olav Lahlum is trying to combine the social commentary of Scandinavian crime fiction with the more complex puzzle plots of classic detective stories, I am not sure I will be following this series any further in the future.