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