Review: Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst

Dregs is the sixth novel in Jørn Lier Horst’s series featuring Chief Inspector William Wisting who lives and works in Stavern south of Oslo, though annoyingly (for the linguistically challenged like myself) it’s the first to be translated to English. It is a classic police procedural that sees Wisting and his team investigating the appearance of two severed left feet clad in running shoes which wash ashore in separate incidents. The area is not exactly rife with crime so the Police have a reasonably good idea that the feet are probably related to four outstanding missing persons cases on their books. However, they still have a lot of work to do to piece together the case and the feet on their own do not provide much help and the coppers have to rely on good, old-fashioned legwork to get to the bottom of things.

I enjoyed this book very much not least because it often went in a direction I wasn’t expecting. I love that in a plot. Without car chases, gruesomely described violence (I know severed feet sounds bad but it is handled well) or any of the other hallmarks of a certain kind of crime fiction Horst has produced a very clever and readable story that has a number of surprises. Although sometimes hindered by their boss who is a little too keen to discuss cases with the media Wisting and the team do manage make some sense out of the bizarre case by linking it to events from the area’s past history and I enjoyed seeing the police work depicted so credibly. The fact there is a good team and a subtle sense of humour on display added to my enjoyment.

Wisting is a great character and though I would like to read about his earlier exploits (hint hint publishers) I thought the book did a good job of presenting him.There’s enough of his background so that new readers are not left floundering but not so much that those familiar with the series would be bored. What I liked about Wisting is that although he has had some tragedy in his life (he is a widower for example) it has not left him the dysfunctional wreck common to crime fiction. He’s in a new relationship with a woman in the town and he manages to maintain a good relationship with his daughter. He doesn’t think much of her current job interviewing convicted murderers or her boyfriend (who has been in prison twice) but he refrains from getting on her case about these things which is undoubtedly the hardest but most sensible thing to do in the situation. On the other hand Wisting has his head in the sand a bit about his own health but this is such a realistic trait that I thought it added very well to his overall character.

I also liked the way the author gently but intelligently explored social themes. Probably the most interesting of these for me was the notion of imprisonment as punishment being an ineffective method for dealing with murderers. Horst uses the character of Line, Wisting’s daughter who is a journalist, to tease this issue out in a series of interviews with convicted murderers who have been released from prison. It was a somewhat surprisingly thoughtful and balanced look at the issue, especially considering Horst was a policeman himself and could be expected to perhaps take a harder line on such an issue.

Dregs was very readable to me which I always attribute to excellent translation, in this case by Anne Bruce, as well as good original writing. I will look forward to reading more of this series though whether that proves to me earlier books or later ones remains to be seen.

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Based on the fact there are at least two other recent crime novels featuring severed feet I’m clearly not the only person who has been following the bizarre news stories from Canada (and more recently the US) about unattached feet washing up on various shores. Sometimes it’s easy to see where novelists get their inspiration :)

Dregs has been reviewed (to pretty universal acclaim) at Crime Fiction Lover, Crime Segments, Crimepieces,  International Noir Fiction, Nordic Bookblog (I am so jealous that Peter has read the earlier books in their native language) and Petrona

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My rating 4.5/5
Translator Anne Bruce
Publisher Sandstone Press [2011]
ISBN 9781905207671
Length 310 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #6 in the William Wisting series (but the first available in English)
Source A gift from my fairy godmother
Creative Commons Licence
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