Dead Below Zero - Sten Ostberg

Reading one of Sten Ostberg’s short stories is becoming a Xmas tradition for me. Last year it was “Blood Ran Cold” which introduced us to the main characters featured here.


Karl Vollan is a retired cop living in Tromso with his much younger wife Marte & 2 year old Nadina. After leaving his daughter with the in-laws one night, Karl is looking forward to a rare romantic evening. Yeah….better luck next time, Karl.


A 2 am phone call from Marte’s older sister Brynja puts an end to his plans. They’re soon racing through a brutal snowstorm to get to the home she shares with husband Kjell. When they arrive, they find Brynja alone, covered with blood & she’s got quite a story to tell. It’s only 112 pages so I’ll leave it there as far as the plot is concerned.


Whether or not you enjoy this story will depend on you ability to suspend all disbelief. What follows is a violent, harrowing tale that will keep you turning the pages just to see who is left standing. But the number of near misses, last minute reprieves & death defying recoveries were a few bridges too far for me, I’m afraid. One character in particular seems rudely oblivious to the fact they should be dead already & keeps popping up like a Whack-a-Mole.


Having said that, there were a couple of things that are done very well. One is the setting. Much of the story is set outside in a howling blizzard & descriptions of the characters battling wind, freezing body parts & snow blindness had me reaching for another sweater. The other is how people respond to each other in stressful situations. Polite facades gradually crumble as Karl, Marte & Brynja begin to bicker. Sides are taken & then shift as events careen out of control & it’s not long before the gloves come off & frayed nerves result in old secrets & lies being revealed.


So there you have it. Is it believable? Not really. But it has that same weird attraction of watching an impending train wreck. Just bring an extra sweater.