Cover image of "The Lazarus Solution,"  a novel of intrigue in wartime Stockholm

For most Americans, World War II was all about the war in the Pacific and what took place after the Allied invasions of Italy and northern France. But it was, of course, a global war. It lasted at least from 1937, when Japan invaded China, to 1945, when the Red Army occupied Berlin. And a great deal happened far from the titanic battles on the oceans and the eastern and western fronts in Europe. What transpired in Scandinavia is a case in point. There, tens of thousands of Nazi troops occupied Denmark and 300,000, Norway. And supposedly-neutral Sweden allowed German soldiers to travel in force on its trains. In The Lazarus Solution, Norwegian author Kjell Ola Dahl brings this reality back to life. It’s a complex tale of murder and intrigue set in wartime Stockholm and Oslo.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Who murdered Daniel Berkåk?

At first, it seems to be a simple story. Daniel Berkåk, a Norwegian courier for the Home Front resistance, is shot and killed shortly after crossing the border into Norway. He had been carrying a load of underground newspapers and a bundle of secret documents, which were now missing. Who murdered him? Was it a border guard working for the Nazi-run government? A home-grown Nazi? Or someone with a personal motive?

The Norwegian government in exile in London wants to know. And they have passed word to a top official in their legation in Stockholm to investigate the case. Which leads the legation staff to recruit a reluctant Jomar Kraby, who describes himself as “an impecunious bohemian and alcoholic.” He is, in fact, a well-known author and playwright. But he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the political scene and the war in Norway as well as the soul of an investigative journalist. And in short order Kraby will discover that the murder of Daniel Berkåk was anything but a simple matter. For Kraby will discover hidden layers of deceit and Intrigue stretching from Stockholm to Oslo and back.

The Lazarus Solution by Kjell Ola Dahl (2023) 276 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of Nazi troops in Oslo in World War II, a common sight in this novel of intrigue in wartime Stockholm and Oslo
Nazi troops in Oslo. The first German forces arrived by ship. But most traveled by train across supposedly-neutral Sweden. Image: Daily Mail

Hidden layers of deceit in wartime Stockholm and Oslo

Dahl’s story revolves around two men, both of whom we get to know intimately. Kraby, of course, who emerges from the page as brilliant and needy and shrewd. And a younger man named Kai Fredly, whom at first we think is a simple seaman. But we soon learn there are depths to Fredly’s character and secrets in his past. And Fredly had an older brother, Atle, who was also recently murdered.

Kai is determined to kill whoever was responsible for killing his brother. Which is why he has accepted a lucrative mission from a mysterious woman in Oslo to murder Daniel Berkåk. She has told him it was Berkåk who killed Atle. In fact, the relationships among all these characters revolve around the politics of the time. Atle was a Nazi who had even fought on the Russian front as a member of the Waffen-SS. Kai is a Communist who went to Spain to fight. And that mysterious woman seems to travel in Nazi circles. So, there’s much more going on here than relationships on a personal level. And Jomar Kraby will gradually unravel the surprising truths behind it all.

Sweden and Norway in World War II

When the Second World War broke out in Europe in September 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland, both Norway and Sweden were neutral. And they both intended to maintain their neutrality. But it was not to be. Seven months later, in April 1940, Germany invaded Norway. Both Norwegian forces and the British fought a futile battle to dislodge them, and the Nazi occupation lasted for five years.

Sweden’s experience in the war was different. Nominally, the country maintained its sovereignty. Spies from all sides filtered into Stockholm, as the novel reveals. But Sweden faced entrenched Nazi forces in every direction: occupied Denmark and Norway, German troops battling the Russians in Finland, and the German Navy in the Baltic Sea. And the pressure forced Sweden to bend its neutrality laws. Germany tapped Swedish iron ore to feed its arms factories. And, according to multiple sources, “by 1943, the German military had made about 250,000 trips across Swedish territory taking soldiers to and from the warfront.” Trains taking those troops figure in Dahl’s story, too.

About the author

Photo of Kjell Ola Dahl, author of this novel of intrigue in wartime Stockholm
Kjell Ola Dahl. Image Twitter

To date, Kjell Ola Dahl has written sixteen books in his native Norwegian, most of them novels. Seven have been translated into English. Dahl is best known for a series of eleven Scandinavian noir novels featuring a pair of detectives in Oslo. He has also coauthored two screenplays. Dahl was born in 1958 and is actively at work as a writer.

To explore the genre in which this novel fits, check out The best Nordic noir series and Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery by Wendy Lesser (Down the rabbit hole of Nordic noir).

You might also enjoy my posts:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.