Ordeal by Jorn Lier Horst

3 Mins read

What is it about William Wisting? He’s getting on a bit, and he doesn’t really have the cannon ball-style impact of Harry Hole. Nor does he quite match Inspector Sejer for psychological intensity. And yet this quiet Norwegian detective is gaining a big following just like his fellow fictional crime-solving countrymen.

In the fifth Wisting mystery, our man is flummoxed by the disappearance of a local taxi-driver in the Stavern area that forms the detective’s patch. The man has been gone since January and summer is approaching. His superiors want to know why he’s made no headway.

Our man has worked every angle and every lead – he’s diligent like that – but he has other things on his mind too. His heavily pregnant daughter Line has put her journalism career on hold and moved back to Stavern, away from the father and from the hurly burly of Oslo’s media scene. As Wisting gets a minor break in his case – someone who might now the location of the missing man’s taxi – Line gets reacquainted with a girl from her school called Sophie.

Sophie is back in Stavern too. She’s inherited a house from her grandfather, who was found dead at the bottom of the basement stairs during the past winter. Reluctantly, Sophie has moved into the house with her daughter Maya. Like Line, she intends to raise her daughter alone and they strike up a friendship. Before long, Line is helping Sophie open a big, mysterious safe in the old man’s basement – the contents of which will fuel Wisting’s case, and one or two others too.

Why? Because Sophie’s grandfather was Frank Mandt, the region’s most notorious smuggler and a man so determined not to get caught that he’d seen Sophie’s mother sent to prison on a drugs rap that he ought to have taken. What they find in the old man’s safe is an old handgun, but Sophie is so upset by her grandfather’s legacy she swears Line to secrecy. Line hands the gun in anonymously, but when Wisting has it tested it turns out the weapon was used in a killing in the nearby city of Kristiansand on the New Year’s Eve gone.

Like many Nordic authors, Jorn Lier Horst writes in a matter of fact style. It suits the detailed nature of this police procedural right down to the ground. The prose is spare and practical, just like Scandinavian furniture, but not so barren as to be charmless. The climate and rough terrain don’t play much part in the atmosphere here, with the setting switching between semi-rural costal towns near Stavern and the suburbia of Kristiansand.

It turns out that Wisting’s missing taxi driver, the New Year’s Eve murder and Mandt’s smuggling might be connected by more than a few strings. Trouble is, Wisting’s discoveries are casting doubt on the murder case, which is about to go to trial. He comes into conflict with a rival detective who’s both arrogant and sloppy, but well supported by his bosses – unlike Wisting himself. Jorn Lier Horst cleverly shifts the tension from the investigation itself to Wisting’s battle for justice and drive to arrest the right culprit even though the Kristiansand cops don’t want him to.

There is the slightest hint that a relationship might be kindling between Wisting and his superior Christine Thiis but, disappointingly, nothing pans out despite them working closely together for the final third of the novel. Ordeal is also a slow starter – it seems to take at least 50 pages before there’s really enough intrigue and momentum to carry you with it. Perhaps the biggest problem is a plot hole early on. Would Line really overlook how crucial the contents of Frank Mandt’s safe are? Yes, she’s Sophie’s friend but I’m just not sure she’d keep her father in the dark given the seriousness of the crimes.

This isn’t an action thriller by any means. There’s very little violence but as with other novels in the series the threat of violence, and its consequences, permeate the storyline. Ultimately, it’s a thoroughly authentic procedural and seems more than real. If you enjoy Henning Mankell’s Wallander, you’ll like this novel too, with its understated tone, and quiet, thoughtful detective.

You don’t need to go back to the first book, Dregs, to enjoy this series. The best of the Wisting novels is probably The Hunting Dogs. You can read our interview with the author here.

Sandstone Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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