Unravelling a murder from Tangalla to Oslo

by Carl Muller

(November 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) 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 police.

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 the Sinhalese.

"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!


by Mahinda Weerasinghe - Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2008 - pp. 240
- Sri Lanka Guardian