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The Inspiration for Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl

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Little Drummer

By Kjell Ola Dahl

The first time I was in the Nyanza province in Kenya, HIV infections were at a peak in the area, with high numbers afflicted and countless deaths. I was aware that East Africa had been hard hit by the disease, but the numbers were shocking. The carpenters that I met were making coffins than furniture. And in a hotel in a small village outside Kisumu, where I spent a few nights, there were packets of condoms in the drawer, alongside the Bible. Every conversation was dominated by discussions and fears about the virus. And, of course, there was a huge demand for medicine.

I started to do research on HIV medicine and foreign aid, and soon realised that there were both reputable and highly suspect companies involved … something that inspired further research. On one of my research trips to Africa, I was walking along the shore of Lake Victoria, where I met an old man. He started to reminisce about the old days, how the coast had changed since then. He pointed out what he meant – enormous areas of green plants growing wildly in the harbours, preventing the fishermen from going to sea. I started to talk to local fishermen, and interviewed a journalist from the newspaper Daily Nation. I learned that the lake was out of balance because of the water hyacinth, a plant imported from South America and spreading at an alarming rate. I had been doing research into similar ecological issues like this in Norway and it was at this moment that I decided I need to include it in a work of fiction.

I was back in Kisumu two years later, and accidentally through an area where women were cooking soup with fish skeletons. I asked why they didn’t use the meat of the fish itself, and they explained that all decent fish was exported to Europe, Canada and the USA and they were too poor to afford it. What struck home was the fact that they lived by the shore of a lake but were unable to eat the fish … to serve it to their children.

(c) Rolf M Aargaard

I knew immediately that this had to stem from failed foreign interventions and aid. One project stocked the lake with Nile perch, also out of its natural habitat, and it soon dominated the fisheries. There were projects intended to make local fishing more productive, but instead of making local fishermen wealthy, they were poorer than ever.

How could good intentions go so wrong? This was another catalyst for my research, and I saw instantly how the themes could become central to a crime-fiction story.

I started to do more research and then I got the idea how these themes could work in a crime novel. At the time, I had been researching the cooperation that often exists between journalists and police when it comes to crime. There were some famous cases in Norway that were solved simply because the police co-operated with journalists – the press would get tips and clues, but the police did not. Cooperation like this is a delicate matter, involving ethical issues; the police are supposed to work independently and the press are supposed to protect their sources. I wanted to write about this, too, and imagined a police officer and a journalist being forced to cooperate abroad, wondering ethical it would be. Then I thought: Why not take this police officer and a journalist and let them face the challenges I had seen in the Nyanza province in Kenya? I already had the police officer – Frølich, from my Oslo Detectives series – and I just needed a journalist, and preferably female, to enhance the conflicts between them, professional contradictions, gender differences, and differing professional targets. To find her, I had to do more research. I interviewed a handful of female journalists and made notes on the character who would become Lise Fagernes. Once I had a grip on her, there was only one thing left to consider: Someone had to die.

(c) Kjell Ola Dah

Little Drummer, an Oslo Detectives thriller, is translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett and is published by Orenda Books.

About Little Drummer:

Little Drummer

Godfather of Nordic Noir Kjell Ola Dahl returns with tense, sophisticated, searingly relevant international thriller that explodes the Nordic Noir genre, as Frølich and Gunnarstranda travel the globe to investigate exploitation and corruption in the distribution of foreign aid and essential HIV medications.

When a woman is found dead in her car in a Norwegian parking garage, everyone suspects an overdose … until a forensics report indicates that she was murdered. Oslo Detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda discover that the victim’s Kenyan scientist boyfriend has disappeared, and their investigations soon lead them into the shady world of international pharmaceutical deals.

While Gunnarstranda closes in on the killers in Norway, Frølich and Lise, his new journalist ally, travel to Africa, where they make a series of shocking discoveries about exploitation and corruption in the distribution of foreign aid and essential HIV medications.

When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, all three investigators face incalculable danger, spanning two continents. And not everyone will make it out alive…

Exploding the confines of the Nordic Noir genre, Little Drummer is a sophisticated, fast-paced, international thriller with a searingly relevant, shocking premise that will keep you glued to the page.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

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 thirteen 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.

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