The third novel (which has been translated into English) to feature senior Norwegian policeman William Wisting is, at least on one level, a standard procedural novel with two murder investigations playing out. The first of these is a high-profile murder case Wisting thought he solved 17 years earlier. But a lawyer acting for the man convicted of the crime is able to demonstrate that evidence against his client was fabricated. Wisting is castigated in the national media and immediately suspended from duty, though not before he manages to ‘borrow’ the archived case notes so that he can review the investigation himself. The second investigation is the present-day murder of a middle-aged man that Wisting’s daughter Line, a journalist, becomes involved with.
The idea of the police getting it wrong – either through incompetence or deliberate malice – is pretty bloody terrifying so stories in which such scenarios play out are always compelling. What makes THE HUNTING DOGS stand out is the way the book shows us how such things might happen even when the person leading the investigative team is an ethical man. Horst really does a great job teasing out this theme across the whole novel in which mounting pressure from all sides as well as their own personal demons force investigators to behave like the hunting dogs of the novel’s title. At one point he allows Wisting, now experiencing what it feels like to be interrogated rather than to be the one asking the questions, to observe
Before the law [people] were innocent until the opposite had been proven. As far as investigators were concerned though, it was the opposite. The starting point for them was that the person in the chair was guilty. To solve a case, it was crucial to believe that, to have a firm belief that the person facing you had done what he was charged with…It was like a sports contest. If you did not believe, and believe that the game was worth winning, you lost.
Perhaps this concept should be obvious to someone who has read as much crime fiction as I have but I don’t think I’ve ever really encountered it as thoughtfully depicted as it is in this novel. I especially admire the even-handed way Horst has explored the theme: not giving the police a pass (surely a temptation for a retired policeman) but also not heaping irrational criticism upon them.
The stories themselves are complicated but I found both threads easy enough to follow and enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences in approach taken by the journalist and the policeman. Though I couldn’t help wondering how much artistic license was taken when depicting the surveillance operation towards the end of the novel. I think with the media landscape being what it is these days most of our newspapers would struggle to come up with one chap on a moped for such an exercise, so to read of Line’s paper having 4 or 5 manned vehicles and other people on foot all able to give up many hours to follow one man did stretch the bounds of my credulity.
THE HUNTING DOGS is definitively in the investigator’s camp as far as perspectives are concerned. This is not one of those crime novels that offers a sense of things from the victim’s perspective or the culprit’s so there’s not a huge amount of character development. But Wisting is depicted quite thoughtfully. In addition to the soul searching he does professionally his personal life undergoes a metamorphosis when the issue of living with someone so consumed by their job comes under scrutiny.
My favourite kind of crime novels are the ones that explore interesting political or social themes in a way that makes me think and THE HUNTING DOGS is a winner on that front. Without once giving in to the temptation to lecture or be didactic Horst offers a thoughtful examination of policing and the plausibility of the right thing happening for the wrong reasons. These complex issues – where no person or group is all right or all wrong – are the shades of grey I like to read about and I’ll be eagerly awaiting more translations of this author’s work.
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Translator Anne Bruce
Publisher Sandstone Press [this translation 2014, original edition 2012]
Length 323 pages
Book Series #8 in the William Wisting series (the third translated to English)
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