ORDEAL by Jorn Lier Horst
Minotaur Books; 8/8/17
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: a superb Nordic Noir procedural
This fall is going to be a fantastic one for new Scandinavian crime fiction. If you read my Fall 2017 Nordic Noir Reading List, you'll already know that one of the books I'm recommending is ORDEAL by Jorn Lier Horst, a brilliant police procedural with a big heart. ORDEAL is without a doubt my favorite Jorn Lier Horst book I've read thus far—its complex plotting and endearing characters make for a compelling and engaging read. The king of the Nordic Noir procedural, Jorn Lier Horst has crafted an impeccable slow-burn crime novel in ORDEAL.
Frank Mandt died after a fall down his basement steps, the same basement that holds a locked safe bolted to the floor. His granddaughter, Sofie Lund, inherits the house but wants nothing to do with his money. She believes the old man let her mother die in jail and is bitterly resentful.
Line Wisting’s journalist instincts lead her into friendship with Sofie, and Line is with her when the safe is opened. What they discover unlocks another case and leads Chief Inspector William Wisting on a trial of murder to an ordeal that will eventually separate the innocent from the damned.
The more widely I read within Nordic Noir, the more I appreciate the attention to detail and realism Lier Horst brings to his writing. Having served as a police officer himself, Lier Horst imbues his fiction with a welcome dose of reality—his characters are human, his mysteries feel grounded in fact, and the solutions to the puzzles he writes are always logically developed. Now, don't get me wrong: I love a good cinematic crime novel, something that's bloody and action-packed or just a bit over the top. But when you need a break from the drama and are looking for a crime novel that's smart and engaging even without the bells and whistles, Jorn Lier Horst is your guy. Pared-down and grounded in reality, Lier Horst's William Wisting series is good, old fashioned crime fiction in the best possible sense.
If Lier Horst’s William Wisting series is defined by its realism, the counterpart to that quality is its slow-burning pacing. Where Nordic Noir authors like Nesbo and the late Larsson tend to use the drama and intensity of their stories to drive the plot forward (which you already know I love!), Lier Horst takes a different approach, allowing his story's layers to develop naturally. In previous Lier Horst books that I’ve read, I did wish for just a bit more of a driving force behind the story—and in ORDEAL, the author delivers.
While the William Wisting series will always be more oriented towards detailed police investigations and true-to-life characters than breakneck-speed plotting and drama, ORDEAL has a certain quiet urgency that kept me immersed from the first page to the last. ORDEAL won’t be the right choice for you if you’re looking for gritty, dark Scandinavian crime fiction like the examples provided by Jo Nesbo and the late Stieg Larsson, but it will be the right choice for you if you’re keen to read a story that’s thoughtfully-constructed and representative of the real men and women who work in the police. There’s something so appealing to me about this concept: the idea of writing characters that reflect the real officers the author worked with while he was a police officer himself.
In that vein, it’s worth mentioning just how endearing the characters in the William Wisting series are. As always, I’ll be perfectly honest: it took me a little while to warm up to Wisting. He’s not another “damaged detective” as we’ve come to recognize them; he’s a good, hardworking man who believes in justice and in doing right by his colleagues. This might not be the most “flashy” kind of character, but it’s a character that is so refreshing to read. The more I read of this series, the more I’m also drawn to the character of Wisting’s daughter, Line. Line adds a welcome dose of energy and personality to the books, and I was thrilled to find that she plays a prominent role in ORDEAL. I actually found myself most excited to read the chapters of ORDEAL that follow her! By the story’s final scene, I felt as though these characters were old friends—William Wisting and Line Wisting are the kind of people you’d want to have in your real life, not just in your reading material.
On the topic of the William Wisting series—you absolutely can read this book as a standalone. Lier Horst’s publisher has done something that I so appreciate: they’ve included a brief, two-page summary of the series so far at the front of ORDEAL. This little inclusion is massively helpful, and really does allow you to jump into this series with this book.
Jorn Lier Horst’s William Wisting series has achieved massive popularity in his native Norway, and his newest US series installment ORDEAL is well worth a read for fans of slow-burning, detail-oriented police procedurals. It's important to note that this book is different in style and tone than Lier Horst's Nordic Noir peers—readers looking for fast-paced, gritty crime fiction should dip into Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series. But there's also so much to love about the kind of crime fiction Lier Horst writes. In a crowded genre, Lier Horst stands out for his commitment to writing crime fiction grounded in reality, both in its portrayal of police investigations and in the very human characters he writes.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (August 8, 2017)
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