Review: Jørn Lier Horst – Dregs

There have been quite a few blog posts about book covers recently, with discussions ranging from how relevant the cover image is to the plot, how some book covers are blatantly copying the artwork of other authors and whether blurbs accurately reflect the content of the book, or worse contain spoilers. It’s an interesting topic especially as I specifically bought this book because of its cover. It depicts a single trainer lying at the edge of the shoreline. This is essentially the nub of the book’s investigation, the discovery of a number of dismembered feet belonging to different victims that are found washed up in Stavern in Norway.

The victims are discovered to be largely elderly men who were involved in the Norwegian resistance fifty years earlier. Investigated by police inspector William Wisting, an experienced murder case detective, the case is hampered by the unwillingness of the victims’ families to talk about the unregistered guns that each member of the gang had in their possession. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter Line is a journalist who is researching the effects of imprisonment on murderers who are subsequently released. Her research begins to overlap with Wisting’s case and collide towards the end of the book.

Dregs contains everything I like about Scandinavian crime fiction. There is so much of it to read now that sometimes I  forget why I like it so much – the excellent plotting and the quality of the writing. In effect, this a police procedural in the vein of Nesbo and Indridason. It has a nice pool of suspects which coincide with the interviewees of Wisting’s daughter. This coincidence or ‘synchronicity’ as the book calls it doesn’t tax the readers credulity too far and in fact is made to seem entirely plausible. Also, although references to WW2 abound in contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction, this aspect of the book wasn’t too laboured and I didn’t feel that we were going over old ground. I thought the narrative structure, linking past and present and the work of the two main protagonists – murder investigation and journalism, a particularly strong one. And Horst, a policeman, can really write well and a credit is due too to the translator Ann Bruce.

My only reservation about the book is that although it is the first book by Horst to have been published in English, there are obviously previous books in the series yet to be translated. The book assumes that the reader knows about Wisting’s dead wife, a previous case that Wisting and his daughter were both involved in, the development of his relationship with his girlfriend Suzanne and his dislike of Tommy, Line’s boyfriend. I don’t usually mind this if I’ve made a conscious choice to read a book in the middle of a series but with translations you are at the mercy of the publisher. However this was the only downside of a book that was a very enjoyable read and I’m already looking forward to further translations of Horst’s books.

Other reviews of Dregs can be found at Crime Segments and Petrona. Both reviewers make similar comments about the odd translation order.

For the discussions on book covers look here and here.

The latest reviews for December, including books by Scandinavian writers Hakan Nesser and Kjell Eriksson can be found over at crimesquad.com

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12 thoughts on “Review: Jørn Lier Horst – Dregs

  1. What a great review, which reminded me in so many ways of how much (and why) I enjoyed this book. I agree with you that it is odd that the 6th in the series has been translated first, but let’s hope that earlier ones are translated soon. (Another author who has suffered somewhat in this way is another Norwegian, Gunnar Staalesen, who has written about 16 Chandler-esque PI novels set in Bergen, only about 4 of which have been translated in a very odd order. I highly recommend them, though – perhaps Consorts of Death would be a good one to try first as there is a lot of back story in it that was apprently only revealed in that book even though it is about #15). Back to Dregs- it is one of my very favourite books this year and I do hope the author has translated success with it. The author sounds like a lovely person – did you see this interview of him? http://www.sandstonepress.com/blogs/sandstonepress/10/2011/cyprus_well_interviews_jorn_lier_horst/

    • Thanks for the link Maxine. He is really interesting to read especially in relating to the craft of writing. I love the way he plans his chapters on an excel spreadsheet. What looks effortless on the page is obviously meticulously worked out.

  2. Sarah – An excellent review! Thank you for it. I completely agree with you about translating books beginning so far into the series. I’m not sure why that decision was taken, either. I hope the other books do get translated… You also make a very well-taken point about the many mentions of WWII, especially in Scandinavian crime fiction. I may do a post about that; it’s really quite interesting…

  3. Sarah – thanks for the link mention in your very nice review. I loved this book and am very eagerly awaiting the rest of the series. I hope that the rest of them are as well written as this one — I’m sort of getting tired of the (as I call it) “gimmicky serial killer” in crime fiction, and I was happy to see that the author didn’t feel he had to go down that road.

    • Hi Nancy. Glad you liked the review. I’m looking forward to his other books too – I suspect his day job negates the need to use gimmicks in his writing.

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  8. I’ve always made the assumption they translate what they regard as the most commercial book, and as authors sometimes take one or two books to find their groove (yourself excepted, Sarah, of course!) it can be further on in the series. Or perhaps another publisher owns the rights to the books in the UK, but their attempt to sell them didn’t work out. It is irritating though.

    • It is although now I’ve read plenty of Lier Horst’s books, Dregs remains one of my favourites. I think it’s partly because it was the first book of his I read but I also like this story.

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