William Wisting is the latest Norwegian detective to appear on our TV screens, and if you enjoy this style of calculated and complicated investigation then there’s a series of six books to look forward to. The first, Dregs, is very much cut from the same cloth as Wallander or Beck: this is Scandi crime and not Nordic noir. That might be splitting fine hairs, but Dregs is most definitely a thoughtful police procedural, not a melancholic investigation of the dark night of the soul.
I swiftly felt at ease with this solid, old-school Scandinavian detective. His investigation – a series of unsolved missing people cases followed by the appearance of partially decayed remains – is told in an accessible, unfussy literary style. Events happen sequentially, from the perspective of the main characters, without jumping around in time or relying on stunt misdirection to mislead the reader. There are few cliff-hangers or radical reversals. Instead the tangled aspects of the mystery are gradually revealed amid a building sense of menace.
Readers who enjoy fast-paced action thrillers – let’s say Jo Nesbo or Arne Dahl – may find Dregs a little too leisurely and subdued, however. Fans of Henning Mankell will feel far more at home. If anything, the character of Wisting may owe a little too much to Wallander – he suffers from a mysteriously debilitating illness which saps his energy and intellect. There’s even a mention of diabetes, so I suspect it’s a deliberate tribute. But it’s a nice change that he’s not an alcoholic, trapped in a continual custody battle with an embittered ex-wife!
The subplot involving Wisting’s journalist daughter and her interviews with ex-offenders opened an interesting can of worms, too. It neatly adds to the confusion surrounding the main investigation by casting doubt on the guilt of a previously convicted criminal. But the nuanced discussion about imprisonment, retribution, rehabilitation and social exclusion provides more intellectual stimulation than most crime-thrillers aspire to achieve.
It was also refreshing to read a murder-mystery where the victims weren’t all female, where violence against women or children wasn’t the core of the story. Wisting’s daughter, Line, provides an alternative viewpoint to that of older male generation, but you don’t get beaten over the head by radical campaigning.
An engaging read and an inviting start to the series. I shall read more…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst is available at Amazon
Looking for more slow-burn crime fiction?Meet the Killing Sisters in A Last Act Of Charity at Amazon