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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Joker

Lars Saabye Christensen

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Title: The Joker
Author: Lars Saabye Christensen
Genre: Novel
Written: 1982 (Eng. 1991)
Length: 252 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Joker - US
The Joker - UK
The Joker - Canada
Der falsche Tote - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Jokeren
  • Translated by Steven Michael Nordby

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Our Assessment:

B : decent writing and ideas, but doesn't quite come together

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The opening of The Joker isn't entirely original, but promises dark fun nonetheless: Hans Georg Windelband opens the newspaper on 18 February 1978 and finds his obituary. He reportedly died three days earlier -- not that that's how he remembers it.
       Windelband has no family or friends. He spent some time in prison, and has laid low since he got out, and he's baffled why anyone would think he died. But there's a corpse -- he checks -- and in its disfigured state it could certainly pass for him.
       As it turns out, Windelband isn't living completely under the radar: there are people -- or at least one person -- who know his identity. And Windelband has to wonder whether he wasn't the intended victim. The victim had, indeed, lived as Hans Georg Windelband for a while -- but who would choose to assume his identity, and why ?
       Windelband does have a secret: he went to jail, but he was never arrested for his most serious crime, a bank robbery. And that had been a successful coup, and he still had most of the money stashed away. No one should know about it -- but it seems some suspect that he has more money than he lets on. And there are clearly those who don't want him worrying about what the reason is the pseudo-Windelband wound up dead. Either way: people are after him.
       Windelband tries to lay low, introducing himself under another name, while he tries to figure out what is going on. He's happy to come across one figure from his past, former girlfriend Berit, but other pieces from his past prove more problematic. And he keeps stumbling into odd coincidences -- getting himself beaten up by some folks who too often seem to know where he'll show up, or sharing a house-moving job with a man who turns out to be Berit's ex-husband.
       A vaguely noir novel, there is a grand conspiracy behind most of this (drug smuggling ! gambling ! family secrets !) -- a decent explanation that unfolds fairly well, with a couple of nice scenes as Windelband stumbles deeper and deeper into this complex web. Along the way, Windelband gets beaten senseless and loses himself in drink a few times too often, and a few of the detours stray too far afield, but for the most part Christensen offers an atmospheric little thriller. Many of the secondary characters -- including Windelband's only friend, the Butcher, and the pseudo-Windelband's landlord -- are also particularly nicely presented (so, for example, in the Butcher's small asides about his kids, increasingly corrupted by the state educational system).
       Not taut or hard-boiled (or, in the alternative, soft) enough, The Joker is not entirely a success -- but the solid writing, and the decent hook at the beginning carry the reader a long way.

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The Joker: Reviews: Lars Saabye Christensen: Other books by Lars Saabye Christensen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen was born in 1953.

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