British-trained Norwegian intelligence agent, Tore Haugland, is a jøssing—a patriot—sent to a fishing village on Norway’s west coast to set up a line to receive weapons and agents from England via the “Shetland Bus.” Posing as a deaf fisherman, his mission is complicated when he falls in love with Anna Fromme, a German widow. Accused of betraying her husband, she has a young daughter and secrets of her own. Although the Allies have liberated France, the most zealous Nazis hang on in Norway, sending out agents to disembowel resistance groups. If Haugland fails, it could cost him his life and the lives of the fishermen who have joined him. When Haugland is betrayed and left for dead, he will have to find the one who betrayed him and destroyed his network. He will also have to prove that the one he loves was not the informer. In wartime love and trust are not always compatible.
He found the young man lying in the snow, his battered body pushed deep
under the brambles at the bottom of a ravine. If it had not been for the sound
of the car door slamming, Hans Gunnerson would never have found him. Already
the blanket wrapped around him was covered with snowflakes, partially
hiding the bloodstains stiffening on the shoulders and back. Soon he would
be lost forever to frost and mold.
A snowstorm that had threatened all day had finally come off the fjord.
In record time, the snow had gathered strength and was hissing and whirling
with a vengeance. It filled up the snow-laden woods with a dull silence. All
for a car door.
Like a ghost, Gunnerson pressed back against the rock and stood still.
Faintly, he heard a second and third metallic thud. Far off, two more doors
had been opened and shut. There was a car on the logging road.
Torn between curiosity and caution, Gunnerson stayed where he was. The
trail was well hidden from the road. Eight yards beyond, it switched back
sharply to the right, away from the road and landslide. He crept forward in a
cautious crouch. Obscured by the drooping spruce boughs, he was able to see
the car, confirming his worst fears.
It was a black limousine, the kind favored by the Gestapo. Two officers
dressed in the uniforms of the all-Norwegian SD stood beside it. One of them
stomped and slapped his arms through his greatcoat while the other appeared
to be talking to someone at the back of the car.
Gunnerson swallowed, trying to rid the taste of bile in his mouth. A feeling
of dread and extreme danger started to seize him. All his senses were alert now.
And then Gunnerson saw him. Despite the cold, a sweat broke out on
Gunnerson’s brow. His mouth went dry.
A small, slim man with coarse black hair stepped away from the car and
walked over to a nearby ravine. He pointed down into the gully, then turned
back, his face looking in Gunnerson’s direction. The narrow face with high
cheekbones and thin lips in a wry smile left no doubt. It was Henry Oliver
Gunnerson’s stomach tightened. Rinnan’s presence could only mean one thing: an execution. His gaze stayed riveted to the uniformed men who were now gathered around the back door of the car. The little Norwegian was a Gestapo unit unto himself with a maniacal lust for brutal punishment of patriotic Norwegians. Gunnerson knew of him too well, but he could do nothing.
In dreamlike slowness, the door opened and what appeared to be a man was half-dragged, half-carried out onto the snow. Gunnerson could see bare shoulders before the blanket in which he was wrapped was pulled tighter around his head. He looked dead. The SD men maneuvered the body into the ravine. At a word from Rinnan, one of the men pulled out a gun, aimed and fired into the brambles. As Gunnerson expected, there was no sound from the long silencer.
The snow was falling steadily now. The men seemed anxious to leave, hunkering down against the wind or wiping snowflakes off their shoulders as they walked back to the car. Rinnan got in. After brushing the windshield, the other two followed. The car roared to life. For a brief moment, the wheels spun in the wet snow. Then it rocked and slipped its way back down the road and out of Gunnerson’s line of sight. The woods became silent again.
Cautiously, Gunnerson stood up. Snowflakes covered his cap and gray beard like wet stickers. His hands were cold. God help me, he thought. When will it ever end?
He readjusted his rucksack and stepped back up on the trail. The snow hissed about his grim face. He felt weak, a hollow emptiness gurgling in his stomach, but he knew he would have to go down to that terrible place and see for himself. He feared and hated Rinnan, but it was terrible to die by Nacht-und-Nebel orders, laid in an unmarked grave.
He set off down through the trees and undergrowth. After some scrambling, he finally came out by the pile of earth and trees blocking the road. All that was left of the car was a rectangular patch of fuzzy new snow on the old. Gunnerson looked down the road and felt sure that it was deserted. There was no reason for them to suspect that they had been watched. They were too sure of themselves. Besides, the snowstorm was picking up.
At the bottom of the ravine, he stopped. His heart beat heavily, his bowels growled. The brambles were already piling up with snow. It was hard to see, so removing his rucksack, Gunnerson began to knock the snow off the tangle of bare branches at the deepest point of the ravine.
The body lay in the blanket like a mummy. A light veneer of snow already clung to it, but Gunnerson still could see a neat hole near the top, where the blanket was stiff with blood. He crouched in closer, and then, taking a deep breath, pulled the blanket away.
The young man was lying face down on his right cheek. He had been badly beaten. His eyes were shut tight and his lips were swollen. The skin beneath
the cuts and bruises was a ghoulish pale gray, a haunted mask in the failing light. Was he an illegal worker or some innocent caught in Rinnan’s net?
Gunnerson pulled the blanket away further to reveal heavily bruised shoulders and a flailed and savagely beaten upper back. The man’s hands were tied. His right shoulder was covered with fresh blood where the bullet had nicked the flesh on top of the collarbone. The gunman had nearly missed his target altogether.
No matter. Nothing could be done for him now.
Gunnerson sighed. He knew there would be no identification. Nach-und-Nebel prisoners were generally stripped for that very reason. He looked at the black-haired head and in a moment of pity stroked it. Just like Nils. My son... The old grief returned. He closed his watery eyes. A slight gust of wind rose and sighed amid the falling snow. And then again—
Gunnerson’s eyes sprung open and abruptly he took his hand away from the head.
You are imagining things, old fool, he thought. It’s time to go.
He gathered the edge of the blanket and looked at the face again. The battered lips were parted, something he hadn’t noticed before. Was it possible?
He searched for a pulse on the man’s neck, cursing himself for not doing this sooner. Dead men did not bleed. His rough hand trembled. Nothing. Higher on the throat, he found a weak but fairly steady pulse. The young man was still alive! Alive! The old man was filled with a savage joy. Perhaps Rinnan had been cheated after all.
If Gunerson was to save the battered man, he had to work quickly. It might be dangerous to move him, but the cold was a greater danger. Kneeling down beside him, Gunnerson removed the bloody blanket from the man’s lacerated back and cut the ropes that bound him. Only the man’s shoes and socks were gone.
Gunnerson rolled him onto his back. A faint strangled moan escaped from the swollen lips, but the old man hardened himself to dressing the man with a shirt and socks from his rucksack. He stanched the wound with his scarf, then tightly wrapped him back in the blanket and put his own wool ski cap on the man’s head.
There was a lull in the storm, but Gunnerson continued to work furiously. He decided to return to his hut by the logging road, the long-disused portion above the landslide. He chopped and limbed two small trees, then dragged and tossed them up on the road. He hoisted the blanketed bundle on his shoulder and put him on a travois from his own zipped-up coat with the newly-made poles pushed through and out the neck. He lashed them together with rope from the pack.
The woods were in almost total darkness when he started up the frozen hill. It took all of his strength to climb the gradually rising road. For nearly
thirty minutes, he pulled and dragged his device, its precious cargo often slipping down under the rope as the coat sagged to the ground and skimmed the snow. He had to stop frequently to catch his breath, but the young man’s faint heartbeat urged him on.
L. Oakley’s rich, satisfyingly atmospheric novel The Jossing Affair is set in the midst of the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Norway. A Norwegian named Tore Haugland, trained by British intelligence services, returns to Norway intent on creating a pocket of resistance centered on a west coast fishing village, with the aim of receiving smuggled arms and supplies from the British in defiance of Nazi rule. Haugland’s mission is complicated when he falls in love with a German widow and is later betrayed, seemingly by somebody he had come to trust.
Oakley juggles all these elements very smoothly, and although both her characters and her dialogue can at times verge on the melodramatic, her narrative is so sprawling and involving and intensely detailed that most readers will likely be as engrossed as I was.
First-rate WWII-era espionage fiction.