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Bookmonger: Intrigue and romance in ‘The Jøssing Affair’

“The Jøssing Affair” by J.L. Oakley

A few years ago, Whatcom County author J.L. Oakley spent a lot of time thinking about what it must have been like to live in the North Cascades forests in the first half of the 20th century as she researched and wrote two companion historical novels. “Timber Rose” and “Tree Soldier” blended romance and thriller elements with social and environmental history in the shadow of Mount Baker.

“The Jøssing Affair,” Oakley’s new novel, skips forward just a couple of years to 1944, but leaps half a world away — to Norway — for the setting, and ramps up the intrigue quotient to a nail-biting level.

In the spring of 1944, the Norwegian government is nominally led by a countryman, Vidkun Quisling. But he is a de facto puppet of the Nazi occupiers who invaded the country four years earlier. From village to village, neighbor to neighbor, there are “quislings” (Nazi followers) and jøssings (Norwegian patriots). Along with the privations of war, there is unease: Nobody knows whom to trust.

Tore Haugland is more than just a jøssing. Posing as a deaf and dumb fisherman, he is actually an intelligence agent for the resistance, facilitating the covert transfer of weapons and agents into Norway from England via a boating operation from Scotland dubbed the “Shetland Bus.”

But Tore’s work becomes more difficult when one of his assignments involves assisting a German widow, Anna Fromme, who is attempting to farm her land after the disappearance of her jøssing husband, Einar.

The patriot villagers suspect her of betraying her husband to the government, and are hostile to her. If it weren’t for her 4-year-old daughter, Lisel, Anna would feel entirely alone in the world. But it turns out that the widow’s background is more convoluted that it appears at first sight, and when she is kind to her new handicapped workman (Tore is still working undercover), he begins to have feelings for her.

This story takes place toward the end of the war in Europe. Far off in France, the Allies are invading Normandy and establishing a beachhead that will result in the liberation of France. But the Nazis are tenaciously holding on in Norway, and conducting a dragnet to seek out and destroy resistance fighters. The remote western coast of Norway is not immune from these machinations.

Oakley does a first-rate job of setting the scene, describing the landscape, developing the characters, and conveying the tension and paranoia of the time. But she tips her hand too early, identifying the villains and showing us how black-hearted and conniving they are. It is undeniable that evil prevailed among the Nazis. But how did they get away with it? How did they enthrall and enslave so much of Europe? It wasn’t by military might alone.

Today and any day, it’s imperative to understand how demagoguery is fueled. Oakley missed an opportunity to do that, even though she took over 500 pages (the length seemed excessive) to tell this tale.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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