Unravelling a murder from
Tangalla to Oslo
by Carl Muller
As author Weerasinghe says, the main story line of the politico-cultural
scenario of this book is "very much genuine" though he has
given us fictional characters, These remarks in his Prologue, were penned
in Oslo in March 1993, and at that time he had begun to realize that
"a motley collection of Western nations had decided to underwrite
the Jaffna Tamil terrorists' ultimate objective... the disembodiment
of Sri Lanka."
Rumours had begun to fly around, insidious in the extreme. The Tamils
were the victims of a Sinhalese Apartheid Government; India was ready
to invade us; Norway had flung open its doors to thousands of Tamil
refugees; fifty million South Indian Tamils were ready to move in and
help their Jaffna "cousins" secure a separate state of Eelam...
The Sinhalese suddenly found that they had no one they could call friend.
Canada and Norway were the leading proponents of Tamil "rights"
and terrorist institutions were set up in the UK and the USA. Yes, it
was no fun being a Sinhalese abroad or even at home.
It is in this scenario that Weerasinghe presents Gunnar Larsen, a Norwegian
gemologist, strolling the Tangalla beach. He had someone to meet beyond
some rising rocks, a someone who was waiting for him, but before he
could utter a word of greeting he was shot in the head with a silenced
revolver. It was close to sunset. Two locals found him, informed the
We meet OIC Ravi Ratnavaka. In the dead man's shirt a key was found
with a tag. "Room 325 Paradise Hotel." The hotel manager is
Senaka. He has a programme laid on for his newly-arrived Scandinavian
tourists - and Larsen was among the newly-arrived. He shared a room
with another- Norwegian, Tore Helberg. Larsen had slipped away, rejecting
the entertainment, to walk the beach, meet his killer. Ratnayaka was
adamant. Everybody in the hotel was a suspect:
"The time had been carefully set for his execution, which means
our murderer had known Larsen from before and had control over his itinerary
He was not robbed He was marked for assassination by a person or group."
Halberg had the impression that Larsen knew somebody in Sri Lanka.
They had visited the hotel shops together, but when Larsen stopped to
make a 'phone call, he didn't want Helberg to be with him. It was obvious
that he knew his murderer and they were both involved in something.
The developments are well recorded. The lady who runs the hotel travel
agency is Nina Holm, the niece of the manager, Senaka. Her father is
Norwegian and her mother Sinhalese, Senaka's sister. The police scouted
the gem shops of Galle, Colombo, even Kandy, and one day someone who
refused to give his name phoned Ratnayaka to say that he had called
Larsen on the day of his arrival about negotiating some business, saying
he could call over that very evening. Larsen told him he had another
meeting, so he did not come to the hotel. Ratnayaka knew the man had
phoned from close at hand, possibly from Galle. But he made no progress,
and when all else failed, he was sent to Norway. It was necessary to
get all the dirt he could on Larsen. Gems were being bartered for weapons
by the Tigers and the gem business in Sri Lanka had grown just as dirty.
Precious stones were being smuggled out at a price. Gem sales brought
hard currency to the Tigers via India. Was Larsen also instrumental
in providing arms? He had to dig up Larsen's background, political leanings,
the clubs he belonged to, his contacts, especially Sri Lankan expatriates.
There were well near 6,000 Tamils living in Norway and the Norwegian
media was attacking the Sinhalese and had come out strongly for the
terrorists. Ratnayaka was to remain in contact with police inspector
Odd Nodheim and Nanda Vijaya who was president of the Sri Lankan Association.
When he was met at Formebu airport by Odd, he was told he could not
conduct any official questioning and could not carry a weapon.
When he was briefed on his mission, the IGP had said:
"Norwegian media have been attacking this country and in particular
the Sinhalese people since the start of the ethnic conflict in 1983.
Norway ... has come out strongly for the separatist terrorist cause.
Although with one hand the Norwegian government is giving us aid, with
the other they are aiding and abetting our enemies. [It] is aware that
the ulterior aim of [the Tamils] is the final disembodiment of Sri Lanka.
Our politicians are immune to the situation. They are ever ready ...
to go begging for aid around the continent. They... don't see the, stritigs
which are attached ... another word for a carrot ... which they dangle
in front of our
face ... to cripple our government's will and to incapacitate our ...
self determination. "
What is particularly attractive in this book is that Weerasinghe, while
writing an excellent piece of crime detection, has given us everything
of interest that pertains to Norway and this island. He tells of the
island's pre-Buddhist ritual dances, the attitudes of the Norwegian
press, the traffic indiscipline that is now rampant in our country.
He tells of Norway [meaning "Born of the Sea"), quotes Ibsen,
and how in the old days, Norse marauders roamed the seas; of how Norway
now has the third highest standard of living and of its wish to be both
moral guardian and eliminate racism... of Fornebu airport, said to be
"A Restaurant with Landing Facilities", of Swiss money laundering
from narcotics, the Mafia and illegal rake offs; of the Tamil asylum
seekers... yes, there's so much to take in and we have Ratnayaka mulling
over the Norwegian media, hell-bent on destroying the reputation of
"Demeaning language is used to describe the Sri Lankan government
and the Sinhalese. They are called "Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinists
" and collectively referred to as "Sinhalese and their apartheid
government and tell of their "insufferable nationalism. "
This is an incredible story for it tells of the do-or-die efforts of
Ratnayaka to solve the murder. As the story progresses, we have more
suspects and a tangled chain to unravel. I will not follow the tale
from one heart- beat to another, but the killing of one Norwegian gem
racketeer on-the Tangalla beach has its repercussions - more murders
in Oslo and a clutch of Sri Lankan women, the murderer among them, who
have married or begun to live with the Norwegian racketeers and of one
who was compelled to kill in order to allay suspicion.
The final act in this superb tale takes place in the same Paradise
Hotel in Tangalla. Ratnayaka returns, full of what he has unearthed,
to confront the owner of the hotel boutique selling Sri Lankan souvenir
gifts to tourists. She is Shamila Soma, a coldblooded killer.
While I could cheer the fantastic way in which the OIC had finally
confronted the murderess, I also saw that Weerasinghe had cast him in
a mould that told of utter perseverance; and that he was a man who was
well-educated and well-travelled. But I am not at all pleased with the
cover legend that refers to our hero as "The blundering local Sinhalese
Inspector." He did what seemed impossible in Norway where all he
could rely on was the efforts of one police inspector and the members
of the Sinhalese Expatriates Club. He had to follow many leads, dismiss
what he found irrelevant, and chase up others. It was a huge cat-and-mouse
game and many were the times when he felt that he -Was the,
This is a exceptional detective story and I congratulate Weerasinghe
for taking pains every one of his characters in such a showdown suspects
and all targets open to thorough investigation.
Out of it all, it was the 'blundering Inspector" who triumphed.
I ask that readers try to keep in mind the plethora of characters involved
for there are times that the cat has abandoned the mouse to get entangled
in a big ball of wool. It takes a very good writer to bring them all
into line - the cat, mouse, and the ball of wool and at the end there
is no more wool to pull over the eyes of Sri Lankan law!
Review - MISSION TO OSLO
by Mahinda Weerasinghe - Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2008 - pp. 240