The Brisling Code, historical fiction at its best

Prequel to The Jøssing Affair

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Janet Oakley has certainly put the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II on our radar screen. The occupation was long—five years—and, of course, dreadfully brutal. While much has been written about the Nazi occupation of other European countries, France in particular, not enough has been written about occupied Norway. Oakley has come a long way in filling this void.

As a writer of historical fiction, Oakley is one of the best. Not only does she do incredibly deep research on her topic but she also has a flair for telling an engaging story. She has written a trilogy that brings to life the events in Norway during World War II.

The Jøssing Affair is the base story, where we meet the protagonist, Tore Haugland. The year is 1944. He has just completed his training as an intelligence officer in England and returns to occupied Norway with a very dangerous assignment: to set up an operation to receive agents and arms from England in a small fishing village on the west coast.

The Quisling Factor follows Haugland after the war in 1945. He is not able to settle down and focus on rebuilding a new life. He has yet to testify against Henry Oliver Rinnan, the notorious Norwegian Gestapo officer., who gladly aided the German occupiers. He begins receiving threats and throughout the book he is trying to stay one step ahead of his enemies, who are in hot pursuit to prevent him from testifying.

The Brisling Code is the prequel to The Jøssing Affair and takes place in 1942. Oakley decided to write it after she found two stories that she felt needed to be told as she continued to research Norway during World War II. These areas of particular interest were the story of German orphans who had been sent to Norway to live with Norwegian families after World War I and the strikes of the courageous Norwegian teachers to protest the Nazi curriculum they were being forced to adopt. She skillfully weaves these two stories into this book.

We meet several of the important characters from her previous books and some interesting new ones.

One of the most prominent new characters in this book is Hans Becker, a fictional character. He was one of the orphans sent to Norway after World War I, and he lived there with a Norwegian couple. The woman adored him and treated him well. Her husband, on the other hand, was very harsh with him. Becker loved the woman, who became his precious mamma. After a few years, however, he was sent back to Germany where he later became a high-ranking officer in the Gestapo. He is sent to Norway during the occupation and has a prominent role in terrorizing the local population. He, however, finds his foster mother and shows his constant love for her. He cannot, however, let his German colleagues know of his relationship with this Norwegian woman.

Oakley also creates characters who are involved in the teacher strikes. Many brave teachers refused to implement the Nazi curriculum, and they went on strike to protest. Their action was, of course, not acceptable to the occupiers and, on March 15, 1942, more than 1,300 of the striking teachers were arrested. Some were sent to a concentration camp outside of Oslo while others were sent to the Arctic where they joined Russian prisoners of war to do forced labor.

The Brisling Code begins with Tore Haugland slipping back into Norway after he has had training in England to become a secret agent for the Resistance. His first mission is to gain information on the status of the Germans’ building of the u-boats. He has been given a new identity as a student who will work in an office as a draftsman next to the docks to get as much information as possible on the Germans’ progress. He must seek some assistance from others to gain particularly secret documents but who can be trusted? The reader is always on tenterhooks as he wades into perilous waters.

Haugland also gets involved in Operation Export. He assists in helping Norwegians who are at risk, such as Jews after it was illegal for them to live in Norway and Norwegians who have been discovered to be working against the German occupiers. He, too, has to get out of the country as soon as possible, as he has become a wanted man.

To research the historical background for this novel, Oakley returned to Norway where she visited several important World War II sites. She met and interviewed some of the descendants of World War II heroes. She also had private tours of special museums dedicated to the war. The museum of particular interest was the War Museum in Telavåg. Telavåg was a very small community on Norway’s west coast that played a major role in the Shetland Bus Operation and was, therefore, completely destroyed by the Gestapo when this operation was discovered. She also went to the Shetlands and visited the Shetland Bus Memorial. Forty-four crew members were killed in this operation, and the memorial was built with stones taken from the places where these men had come from. Plaques with their names were placed around the memorial.

For more information about the importance of the Shetland operation in taking many endangered Norwegians to safety, go to the Scalloway Museum’s website for a video and text with many photographs at scallowaymuseum.org/the-shetland-bus.html.

Oakley is already planning more books to add to these three. Perhaps a sequel to The Quisling Factor? A prequel to The Brisling Code? Perhaps another location? England, Germany, or the United States? It is certain, however, that her popular Tore Haugland character will play an important role in any follow-up books.

NOTE: If you have not yet read any of the books in this trilogy, Oakley suggests that you read them in order of publication rather than in chronological order.

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.