Ordeal: substantial Scandi crime

OrdealBoth the English title and the suggestion that this book is noir (Nordic or otherwise) are pretty misleading. This is character-driven police procedural set in small-town Norway, along the lines of Wallander or Beck. It places realistic human characters at the core of a criminal investigation; the discovery of a dead body juxtaposed alongside everyday domestic concerns. A meticulously crafted criminal plot runs in parallel to the events in Chief Inspector William Wisting’s personal life – and he’s very much the linchpin around whom the whole novel revolves. But Wisting is not the typical melancholic, self-destructive fictional detective, and this is not a book about the bleak extremes of the human soul. Which is why the title doesn’t quite suit it…

As the tenth book in the Wisting series, Ordeal comes with a fully developed cast and a useful ‘previously on…’ intro at the front. I’d not read any of the other books but rapidly caught up with Wisting’s family (grown up, pregnant daughter, just moved back to the neighbourhood), his personal life (in between relationships) and his professional approach (solid, methodical and authentic). A relatively simple missing persons investigation in his district becomes much more complicated when it develops links to other police districts and parallel enquiries. The pleasingly detailed routines of Wisting’s investigation are shadowed by his rising concern that a miscarriage of justice is in process – and how he reacts to that troubling scenario, in the face of concerted opposition from his colleagues becomes the main theme of a multi-faceted story.

Refreshingly free from implausible action sequences, Ordeal also doesn’t delve into particularly explicit sex or violence – nor, I must say, does it aim for an atmosphere of high-tension. The plot is intriguing and intelligent, not driven by pulse-pounding suspense. It’s written in crisp, clear, no-nonsense language which eschews the bitter emotional chill and the stark significance of the landscape so often utilised by Nordic writers. Very matter of fact and understated.

In truth, I probably prefer a bit more grit and grime than Ordeal provides, and can live without the nappy realities of the single mother. But it’s an extremely well-constructed mystery with a knotty moral conundrum at its core, and it held my attention throughout. So while I’m not rushing off to read the other nine Wisting books, I’d be happy to pick up another on a quiet afternoon.

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Ordeal by Jorn Lier Horst is available as an ebook or paperback

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