Boy is a new must-read Nordic Noir

Book review

Janell Pape Bradley
Wadena, Iowa

The Boy at the Door

Book cover: The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

Alex Dahl’s first novel, The Boy at the Door, released this July in both Norwegian and English, has been described as a gritty novel of psychological suspense.

Published by Head of Zeus UK and Penguin Random House in the United States, it’s now also being published in Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany, and Portugal. I loved the book cover with the teaser: He has no mother. He has no home. Why is he in your house?

Described by one reviewer as “Scandi noir” at its best, The Boy at the Door takes place in Sandefjord—the Hamptons of Norway. Cecilia Wilborg might be viewed by some as privileged, while others may see a similarity to The Housewives of Beverly Hills as the novel begins with Cecilia describing her idyllic life: an adoring husband, two daughters, and a beautiful home. Yet she also complains of the societal pressure that she says forces her to hold herself to a high standard regarding her home, her appearance, and her marriage.

Not far into the book, Cecilia tells of picking up daughters Hermine and Nicolline at the swim club, when she notices a child who appears to be waiting for a parent to pick him up. With the pool about to close, young Tobias seems completely alone and swim club staff ask Cecilia to provide the child with a ride to the address where he has told them he lives. Although Cecilia is reluctant to get involved—having to go out of her way to drive this little waif to his home will make her late for her own plans to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of her stressful day—she agrees.

When Cecilia discovers no one lives at the address Tobias has given, she agrees to allow the child to stay in her home for just one night … and that is where the mystery begins and Cecilia’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel.

Author Dahl weaves a tangled web of intrigue in telling Cecilia’s story of a troubled childhood and adulthood riddled with hidden drug and alcohol abuse. The many secrets she keeps tucked away begin to rise to the surface.

The Boy at the Door is told alternatively between Cecilia’s and Tobias’s viewpoints, and the journal pages written by Annika Lucasson, with whom Tobias spent some of his time before he finds himself living with Cecilia and her family. Parts of the often dark story take place in Krakow and other locales in Poland.

Perhaps what I liked most about this fascinated and detailed narrative is that just when you think you have everything figured out, the story takes a twist or turn. You will likely change your opinion of whether each of the main characters is deserving of redemption with each chapter.

Blogger Garrett Billings loved Dahl’s novel so much he’s already suggested a cast of characters for the movie version of The Boy at the Door. The Signature website added Dahl’s debut novel to it’s Top 12 Nordic noir must reads, with the likes of Jo Nesbø’s Snowman and Stieg Larsson’s Girl series.

Dahl, who speaks six languages, has said she has ideas for several other books. The Boy at the Door would also make a great read for any book club, as discussion questions are included at the end of the novel.

Half American, half Norwegian, Alex Dahl was born in Oslo. She graduated with a bachelor’s in Russian and German linguistics with international studies and went on to complete an master’s in creative writing at Bath Spa University, followed by a master’s in business management at Bath University. She has previously published short stories in the UK and the U.S. She lives in both London and Sandefjord, Norway.

Janell Pape Bradley published several small weekly newspapers in Northeast Iowa from 1993 to 2010. She is an elected official serving as a county supervisor in Iowa. She loves travel, gardening, kayaking and discovering more about her genealogy.

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.