An interview with meditating author of crime fiction Bjørn Bottolvs

A naked man dead in a shed by a lake in the outskirts of Oslo, with a small tea candle on his chest. Murdered? Bjørn Bottolvs’s tenth crime novel is titled Facing Death. In the novel, solving the murder case involves Acem’s cultural periodical Dyade, which in 2012 published an issue with the same title. A coincidence? Hardly. Bjørn learned Acem Meditation at a summer retreat in 1973 and has been meditating daily ever since.

“A couple of years ago, I picked up the Dyade magazine titled «Facing Death». As so often, the contents were fascinating. Meditation on dead bodies! Gradually, silently, and calmly, the start of a new story began to emerge in my head. When I start writing a new crime novel, I never know in advance how the story will end. I like it this way. This makes it more exciting for me too, to try to sort out the story before I know how it will end.”

Inside information

Bjørn Bottolvs receives positive reviews for his crime novels. He is one of the few writers of crime fiction who knows from the inside how a street cop operates. “In the few crime novels I had read, the main character was never a street cop. Therefore, I created the character police officer Kaasa. He is the kind of character you may see on TV, the one who allows the experts access to the scene of the crime. There is always an on-duty officer who arrives first at the site. This person has many thoughts in his or her head simultaneously: how to save lives, how to find out whether the murderer is nearby, and whether there are any witnesses. A cop like that has the most challenging part of all police work. Decisions must be made quickly, perhaps with a sleepy mind at four o’clock in the morning. In an emergency situation he or she must decide whether or not to shoot and subsequently become either a murderer or a hero. And if the decision is made to shoot, others who sit safely in their offices decide whether or not the officer acted correctly.”

You can never adjust to it

When police officer Kaasa gets involved in dangerous situations, his heart beats fast and he is afraid. Shouldn’t he be a tough policeman?  

“But this is the way it is! You can never adjust to it. You feel the heart pounding in your chest. You try to breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, but you just can’t do it.” Bjørn Bottolvs knows what he is talking about. He started his career at the central police station in Oslo as a young cop in 1969, where he worked for a few years in the law enforcement section. Later he switched to the mounted police section and stayed there for five years. “Then I became a narcoticsundercover, grew long hair and a beard, a couple of years before I went on to the crime watch, followed by work as an ordinary investigator.”

Digging from where I stand

When did the crime novelist appear?

“Parallel with my work as a policeman, I had published two books for children and adolescents. Then I wrote a manuscript more or less within the category of social realism. When I submitted it to a publisher, the editor claimed that it didn’t fit into the common categories, although he liked it. The main character was a policeman, but the novel was not crime fiction. When the editor heard that I was a policeman, he suggested that I write pure crime: ‘You should write about something you really know—start digging from where you stand.’ From then on, that is what I have been doing. I landed on crime fiction, after having had to ‘let go of my babies’ several times.”

“Facing death” – Norwegian book cover

‘’Murder and love are the only things worth writing about’’

So this policeman wrote crime fiction in between his duties at work?

“Yes, but when I had written two crime novels and nearly completed the third, I felt frustrated about not having enough time for writing. This was what I primarily wanted to do, but it wasn’t easy to sit down and write after a long day at work. Therefore, I switched to shift work at a police station, which gave me some days off before noon.”

A meditating policeman—how did your colleagues respond to that?

“I have to admit that I never told my colleagues that I meditate, and I thought nobody was aware of it, until a colleague once asked me what Acem was. He had googled me and found an article about me in Acem’s periodical Dyade. I told him just what it is—a meditation organization. I didn’t get any further questions, and I don’t know what he thought, or what he told others.”

When Bjørn Bottolvs was in his twenties, he read everything by the Norwegian authors Tarjei Vesaas and Axel Sandemose. He sometimes still opens Sandemose’s The Werewolf and The Past is a Dream. The books are now quite worn. “When I first read them, it was with a pen in my hand. I found so many things that touched me deeply, as if they were written about me. On closer reflection, these novels are also basically crime fiction. In The Past is a Dream, the main character says: “Murder and love are the only things worth writing about.”

New stories

In your first ten books about police officer Kaasa, you have placed him in surroundings you know well from your own professional experience. In Facing Death, you seem to suggest that police officer Kaasa will pursue his love and follow a policewoman to Finnmark in the northernmost part of Norway. Here you must really do research?

“Yes, this book suggests that my next novel will take place among the reindeer police. I am aware that if this becomes reality, I must leave behind what I already know and take a research trip up North. I have long thought that there are two things I want to do before I die. The first is to go skiing across the Finnmark highlands in April, and the second is to go skating in the Viking Ice Hall,’’ says Bjørn Bottolvs—with his house full of Acem’s periodical Dyade.

Interviewed by Carl Henrik Grøndahl

Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug

Language editor: Ann Kunish