Written by Jørn Lier Horst — One of the first publishers to get in touch when we set up Crime Fiction Lover was Sandstone Press, a Scottish imprint that’s introducing new writers in various genres including crime. Needless to say, when they offered us a book by the Norwegian author Jørn Lier Horst we jumped at the opportunity to review it. Horst was himself a police investigator, and has become well known both in his own country and in Germany, where his books have been translated. In fact, he has five other books to his name and this, his debut in English, was translated by Anne Bruce.
As the title suggests, Horst stirs up a watery theme with Dregs. When a left foot in a sports shoe is washed up on the shore near the town of Stavern, chief inspector William Wisting is left scratching his head. But when three more similarly attired left feet are given up by the sea it seems the only explanation is murder and dismemberment. While Wisting’s working out what’s going on with the feet, his journalist daughter Line is busy interviewing convicted murderers who’ve been released from prison for an article she’s writing for one of Norway’s top newspapers. Is it possible someone she’s contacted knows something about the feet?
The author’s inside knowledge of police work shows through in the plot structure. If you love procedural crime fiction, this is definitely a book for you. The way Wisting thinks, behaves and worries about details seems very authentic. He’s up tight about his case, but also about a lack of vigour he’s experiencing. He’s in his 50s after all, has lost his wife to cancer, and is finding his feet again in a new relationship. Not that any of this clouds his thinking as he uncovers who the feet belonged to, how these victims are connected, and what darkness from the past caused them to end up in the dregs.
Horst’s approach isn’t the same as Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesbø. Their fast-paced, firey storylines offset by icy Nordic backdrops are the stuff of Hollywood. If we are to talk of the elements, here we have a writer with a cooler approach, inspired by water. The wet stuff is prophetic throughout the story – washing up feet, dashing down in thunderstorms just as bodies are being discovered, and soaking through banknotes that were also, somehow, buried at sea. You can almost feel the drips running down your hand as you hold this book.
And with all this liquid moving around in the story, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that Wisting has an extremely dry sense of humour. He analytically notes at one point that he’s had more murder investigations than women in his life – not that it bothers him, though. The story builds to the very final pages when Wisting pulls all the threads of his investigation together and must rush to prevent another killing. The action only takes place right at the end, like a wave calmly and gradually swelling before it finally comes crashing in.
Fans of some of the other Nordic writers may find themselves begging for more pace and action, but Horst is an intelligent and often poetic writer. His storytelling is as measured and precise as his main character. So we hope to see more of William Wisting in the English language soon, and it would be great to see Dregs on Kindle as well. We uploaded a trailer for Dregs here, if you’re interested.
CFL Rating: 4 stars