Category Archives: Norway

Review: THE HUNTING DOGS by Jorn Lier Horst

TheHuntingDogsHorstThe 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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I’ve reviewed this novel’s predecessors, DREGS  and CLOSED FOR WINTER

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Anne Bruce
Publisher Sandstone Press [this translation 2014, original edition 2012]
ISBN 9781908737632
Length 323 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #8 in the William Wisting series (the third translated to English)

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Musings: NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Derek B. Miller


As I’m very late to the party reading this beautiful book I don’t need to say much more than that. I’m sure you’ve all read at least a half-dozen glowing reviews of it (and if you haven’t, check out Norman’s which is my favourite) and I doubt there’s anything new or interesting I can add to the discussion so I shall just muse.

My first thought is how annoyed I am at the hype machine that publishing has turned into. I am repulsed by hype. I don’t mean sickened (though sometimes…) but rather the put off/driven away meaning of the word. If a book is being read by and gushed about by everyone then I don’t want any part of it. Mostly because books – even good ones – can rarely live up to the expectations set by such ubiquitous adoration but also because even if a book is that good there’s a reasonable chance I won’t like it. I am often out of kilter with the popular zeitgeist (I threw GONE GIRL at the wall for example). My aversion to hype meant I didn’t read this book for ages and nearly didn’t bother at all.

My second thought is borrowed from my favourite radio show/podcast (BBC Radio’s flagship movie review show). There’s a running theme on the show that movies are often not about what they appear to be about on the surface (so Jaws isn’t really about sharks and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn’t really about spying and so on). In the same vein NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT isn’t really about a crime. Or criminals. Instead it is about ageing and masculinity and fatherhood and grief and the heroism of ordinary people and the hidden cost of war. My favourite kind of ‘crime’ novels are the ones that make a mockery of genre labeling and this one positively breaks all the barriers.

My third thought is  that whatever else you throw into a book if give me a character who makes me laugh you’ve won a special place in my heart. Although I only met him a couple of weeks ago I can foresee that the novel’s hero, 82 year old Sheldon “Donny” Horowitz, will become one of my all time favourites. He is my idea of a perfect character. That doesn’t mean he’s a perfect person but that’s kind of the point. He’s just an ordinary bloke dealing with the hand life has dealt him with the kind of active practicality that I associate with men of his generation. And he does it with a laconic humour that made me laugh more than enough to offset the occasional tears.

I love everything about this book. The cracking dialogue between Sheldon and the ghost his best friend has become. Its ambiguous ending. Actually its ambiguous middle bits too. Was Sheldon really a wartime sniper? Does it matter? Its lack of predictability. Its humour and warmth. The way it manages to be a novel about the human toll of war without sounding like a zealot’s treatise (I’m so tired of being told what to think). I even love the cover. Of this version anyway. It is so rare these days to see a cover that represents a book at all let alone one that does so perfectly.

I know I haven’t told you about the plot but you don’t need to know more than it’s about a man. Who does his best to save a boy. If you are one of the few people who didn’t read this book when all the hype was being thrust at you then do so now. And if you’re at all fond of audio books then by all means track down the version narrated by Sean Mangan. It’s a treat.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Sean Mangan
Publisher Bolinda Audio [2012]
Length 10 hours 36 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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TheMurderOfHarrietKrohnFossumAudioIf I’d been paying attention I probably wouldn’t have downloaded this particular book even though I’m a huge fan of Karin Fossum’s because stories told from the perspective of the killer are not one of my favourite things. But I started listening to Sean Barrett’s delightful narration (I admit I have a bit of a crush) before realising that this was one of those books and by the time I worked that out I was hooked. In an efficiently told (though somewhat confronting) opening set piece Fossum introduces us to our murder victim and her killer and even provides the motivation for the heinous act. Having taking care of in a few pages the things most crime novels require a whole book to resolve, she moves on to the issue of what consequences, if any, the murderer will incur either legally or…cosmically…for want of a better word. Given its unusual focus the book is probably not for everyone but I thought it a terrific read (listen).

Charlo Torp, the murdering anti-hero of the story, is a well drawn character, giving weight to my claim that characters don’t have to be likeable to engage me. He’s not a foaming-at-the-mouth killer (that would have been dull) but rather an ordinary man who has made a mess of his life and chooses the most unpleasant escape route imaginable. But that’s the point of him…you can imagine a real person (hopefully not yourself or anyone you know) doing exactly what he does out of … desperation … narcissism…a lost grip on reality. I think it would be impossible to like Torp and I couldn’t really feel too sorry for him even though his troubles were not all of his own making but I did find myself captivated by his narrative and his ability to convince himself of his good qualities. At one point he even tries to measure his worthiness by awarding points for each good and bad act of his life…a subjective exercise indeed but a fascinating insight into his character.

My favourite part of the novel though is the final third which introduces Fossum’s series hero, Inspector Sejer. In this novel his role is smaller than usual as the traditional investigation is not described for readers, though we become aware that it has been going on off-set as it were. But when Sejer arrives to interview Torp, first quite cordially and then more insistently, we see a master at work. His interview style is very low key but demonstrates a man who understands what makes people – especially the criminals he has dealt with all his working life – really tick.

At the time I thought the ending of the novel was a little abrupt but I can’t now imagine what else there was to say so perhaps that was just a product of my being wrapped up in the excellent narration. Most of the questions posed by the novel are at least partially answered and if the big cosmic question about justice being served is not entirely dealt with that is probably as it should be. I guess Fossum fans won’t need any encouragement to read the novel, but I can see myself recommending this to people who aren’t die hard genre fans too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator James Anderson
Translator Sean Barrett
Publisher Random House Audio [2014]
Length 7 hours 49 minutes
Format audio
Book Series #7 in the Inspector Sejer series (though released in English completely out of order)
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Review: CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jorn Lier Horst

ClosedForWinterHorstJr21310_fCLOSED FOR WINTER opens with a dead body being discovered in the summer cottage of a famous TV presenter. When Police Inspector William Wisting attends the site he is attached and his car stolen. With the corpse being…lost…before an identification can be made and one of their inspectors caught up in the night’s events, police are behind the eightball when beginning their investigation. Is it a case of robbery gone wrong or is the apparent drug connection something they should be tracking down?

I was rather enchanted with the only other book of Jorn Lier Horst’s to have been translated into English so far (DREGS) but am afraid CLOSED FOR WINTER didn’t win me over in quite the same way. I don’t mean to say it’s bad, merely that it doesn’t have that elusive ‘something extra’ that elevates a book from the crowded middle of the pack. I suspect this is partly due to a personal prejudice of mine: I am bored by stories which deal with drugs, drug running, drug criminals and so on. But I also feel like this book had a lot more exposition than it needed, to the point that some of read as if it belonged more to the official reports and press releases I’m sure Horst has produced by the truckload in his capacity as a real-life police investigator than to a work of fiction. It’s not a particularly long book by today’s standards but even so it dragged a bit for me as it got bogged down in a lot of unnecessary, awkward details.

There are things to like about the book though, including the way it explores the nature or motivation for criminality. During the last third of the story it becomes clear there are strong connections between the case and organised gangs working out of Lithuania so Wisting and one of his colleagues travel there to conduct interviews. Though they do indeed discover evidence of the kind of gangs they’ve been looking for they also see – or at least Wisting does – that the criminals are subject to a kind of poverty that simply doesn’t exist in Norway and he is noticeably affected by this. It did my jaded heart good to imagine there are high-ranking police who can still be touched in this way.

CLOSED FOR WINTER is a fairly standard procedural that was entertaining enough to keep reading but something I feel like I’ll forget the details of fairly shortly. The writing is a little too stilted and the aspects that are meant to give the novel interest, such as the dramatic number of dead birds falling from the sky, were too easy to guess at for me to rate this in the top echelon of traditional crime novels.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I reviewed this novel’s predecessor, DREGS, in 2011

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Anne Bruce
Publisher Sandstone Press [this translation 2013, original edition 2011]
ISBN 9781908737496
Length 321 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #7 in the William Wisting series (the second translated to English)

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Review: IN THE DARKNESS by Karin Fossum

This book tells two stories really. The first involves the discovery of the body of a man who has been missing for some months. Because the body is found in a river and due to the delay in finding it Sejer and his colleagues have little in the way of evidence or reliable witness statements to go on but they doggedly pursue the investigation. The second story is that of the person who was responsible for the man’s murder. The fact this culprit is revealed about half-way through the book but does not result in a lessening of suspense is a sign of Fossum’s superior writing talents. In a skilled kind of misdirection she makes the reader forget they now know who committed the crime and that, theoretically at least, there are no more secrets to reveal. Because there is suddenly the more interesting question of ‘why’ to be answered and Fossum does this by exploring the culprit’s past and inner life in an engaging way, ensuring resolution is not entirely comfortable for either Sejer or the reader.

It is due to the vagaries of the publishing industry, particularly with respect to the order in which foreign language series are translated into English, that I read the tenth novel in this series, THE CALLER, earlier this year while this first book of the series,published in its original Norwegian in 1995, has only just been released in English. However I found IN THE DARKNESS to be a very accomplished novel, regardless of the fact it is a début, and I enjoyed comparing the beginning of the series with the most recent work while my ailing memory could remember both. The biggest difference is, I think, that IN THE DARKNESS is more of a traditional police procedural than the latest novel in the series, though I wonder if I’d have noticed this if I’d read more of the intervening titles. But even here Fossum’s interest in and empathy for the people who commit crimes as well as those who solve them is plain to see.

The characters are thoughtfully drawn. Konrad Sejer is somewhat gently introduced as a middle-aged widower with an adult daughter whose son was adopted while she and her husband lived in Africa. The depth of his personality is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that his hobby is parachute jumping but only when the weather conditions are absolutely perfect. This defines a sort of deliberate cautiousness that seems to sneak into his approach to his work too. Although obviously responsible for upholding the law he is shown to have a capacity to see the other side of things and understand, if not condone, the actions led to the crimes committed here.

The culprit too is a nicely rounded character whom we see first as a normal participant in day-to-day life with the same struggles to be a good parent and caring child looking after an elderly father. When this character’s culpability becomes obvious and we are told the series of events which led to the point of murder it becomes much more difficult to see the horrid crime in the purely black and white terms of right and wrong. I’m always impressed when an author can achieve this, almost without me noticing.

In some ways I’m quite happy that I’ve still got quite a few of Fossum’s novels left to read (in completely the wrong order now) because she really is a terrific writer. I enjoy the unpredictable road she takes with her stories and the fact that although she shows an empathy for the perpetrators of crimes she doesn’t condescend to those characters or her readers along the way. And perhaps the thing I like best is that the thoughts and issues raised by this book, like the two others of hers that I’ve read, have continued to play across my mind long after I finished it.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
IN THE DARKNESS has been reviewed at Euro Crime and Petrona and a new to me blog called Finnish and Scandinavian Review (by a Finnish author living in England)

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My rating 4/5
Narrator David Rintoul
Translator James Anderson
Publisher Random House Audiobooks [2012]
Length 8 hours 49 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Inspector Sejer series
Source I bought it
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Review: PIERCED by Thomas Enger

Taking place soon after the end of BURNED this second novel from Norwegian journalist Thomas Enger is a welcome addition to the series; managing to continue the good traits noticeable in the first book while controlling the wildness of plot that marred the debut a little for me. PIERCED’s protagonist is Henning Juul, a journalist for an online publication (just like his creator once was) whose only son was killed in a house fire two years earlier. Juul is far from recovered from this trauma, either physically or emotionally. He is contacted by Tore Pulli, a prison inmate who claims to be innocent and is prepared to exchange knowledge of what happened the night of the fire that killed Juul’s son in return for Juul’s investigation into the murder Pulli has been convicted of. Blaming himself for his son’s death Juul cannot refuse to become involved in the hope of learning something about the events surrounding his son’s death.

Juul is a great character; not entirely likeable but totally believable. His struggles with guilt over his son’s death and the physical and mental problems resulting from only just having survived the fire himself are very realistic. But though this is a constant presence in the character’s life Juul does get on with some semblance of a normal life, in particular his work (though this is a bit sad if you are the sort of person who has ever admired journalism as a profession). A key aspect of his character development from the first book is that here his personal relationships, notably with his ex-wife and the journalist she is now in a relationship with, are far more mature and nuanced.

There are other very well drawn characters too. There’s a television cameraman who gets caught up in the case surrounding Tore Pulli in a most terrifying way and whose life spirals out of control rather rapidly as a result. Enger tugs at reader’s emotions with this character’s tribulations but there’s nothing saccharine about the way this is done. I loved the way this thread forced me to ponder what I would do in the given circumstances even though I was a little uncomfortable with my conclusions.

The story in PIERCED is complicated but overall it is more restrained than that of its predecessor and is much more successful at combining the investigative and thriller elements of the plot. The investigation into the murder that  Tore Pulli was convicted of is quite fascinating, involving the shady end of the fitness industry and associated minor celebrities. And the long-running back story of Juul’s son’s death does not overwhelm the book or threaten to become on of those ‘oh we’re back to this again’ devices that feel like the crutch of lazy writers. The reader does get a sense of real development in this thread and it’s definitely a motivation to eagerly await the next instalment.

I think you could read this ably translated novel without having read the first but, even though I thought the plot of BURNED a little outrageous, I’d recommend you start at the beginning before moving onto this book. What are you waiting for?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

PIERCED has been reviewed at Crimepieces and Petrona

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My rating 4/5
Translator Charlotte Barslund
Publisher Faber and Faber [2012]
ISBN 9780571272471
Length 399 pages
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #2 in the Henning Juul series
Source I bought it

Review: THE CALLER by Karin Fossum

I’m almost unwilling to admit that I found THE CALLER unsettling. Not because I’m worried you’ll think I’m a wuss (I am but I don’t care that you know it) but because you’ll think that’s a derogatory thing to say about the book and I don’t mean it to sound that way. Because I think it’s a terrific book, even if extremely sad and…unsettling…in the way it exposes the fragility of the lives we create for ourselves. The subject matter is too dark to for me to say I enjoyed it, but it has gotten under my skin in a way that few books do and I absolutely loved it.

It opens by introducing us to Lily Sundelin who has the perfect life in her small Norwegian town. Her gorgeous baby Margrete is asleep in a pram under a tree in their back yard and she is cooking a favoured meal to share with her much-loved husband when he comes home from work. After their relaxed meal she goes to bring Margrete inside and finds her covered in blood. After rushing to the hospital and fearing the worst they learn that Margrete is fine; the blood was not hers. And while you’d think such an outcome would be cause for rejoicing Fossum takes the story in a less obvious direction, depicting a family that fractures due to the loss of intangible things like security and certainty and the understanding of each person’s role in the family.

We learn early on who is responsible for the prank and this is where one of the book’s many strengths shines through. Because while feeling sympathetic towards the Sundelin family and the prankster’s subsequent victims I felt equally sorry for the perpetrator of the increasingly malicious pranks (which include things like publishing a death notice for an elderly lady who is still alive). He is a teenager who has never known the unquestioning, blind love of a parent that is, or should be, the birthright of every child. His father is unknown, his mother a cruel drunk who abandoned her maternal responsibilities many years ago and while not excusing the boy’s behaviour this situation certainly explains it. Like Konrad Sejer, the inspector assigned to the case, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the boy’s life would have been if he’d ever known the feeling of being loved and protected.

Sejer does not play a huge role in this book although the depiction of an ageing man reflecting on his life, his sadnesses and his joys is thoughtful and drew me into his world. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of the life of Sejer’s much-loved grandson with the life of Johnny, the perpetrator of the vicious pranks, and the way it demonstrated the difference that love can make to lives that start out badly. But the real stars of this book are the various victims of Johnny’s pranks who all feel like very realistic characters to me and their range of reactions to their treatment is fascinating. You might be pleased to know that at least one, a young girl, is not cowed or unduly traumatised by what happens to her which probably says something about the resilience of the young (at least those who are loved and wanted).

THE CALLER is beautifully written (for which at least some of the credit must go to translator K.E. Semmel), full of compelling characters, has a deliciously ambiguous ending and is a superb study of the fragility of life. As Sejer muses towards the end of the novel when one of the pranks results in an unexpected and horrific outcome: What life has in store for some of us. Imagine if we knew.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

THE CALLER has been reviewed at Euro Crime, Petrona and Yet Another Crime Fiction BLog

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 5/5
Translator K.E. Semmel
Publisher Harvill Secker [2011]
ISBN/ASIN 9781846553936
Length 296 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series #8 in the Inspector Sejer series to have been translated into English.
Source I borrowed it from the library
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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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
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
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Review: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

After a hiccup (I had discarded the book once but you convinced me to give it another go) I thoroughly enjoyed Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast and bought the rest of the series before I’d even finished the first book. I haven’t actually gotten around to reading any of them yet because every time I reach for the second book in the series I see its 600+ pages and decide to read something else. Something shorter. But a standalone novel is a whole different box of bananas and shorter than most of the Harry Hole novels so I was keen to read this one. Sadly for me it turned out not to be my cup of tea.

It is the story of Norwegian executive recruitment specialist Roger Brown (I never did discover how he ended up with such a thoroughly English name though concede this is probably my fault…my mind did wander on occasion) whose life spirals out of control in an increasingly gruesome way. Roger has a great job and a beautiful wife who he professes to adore but he feels he needs more money to fund his lifestyle so he has second job as an art thief. In a way, though not the way you might expect, it is this second job that gets him into trouble and sets up the main plot thread of the novel in which Roger matches wits with Clas Greve, a candidate for a top CEO job who ultimately becomes Roger’s arch enemy. The two play a game of cat and mouse across the Norwegian countryside and leave the landscape littered with bodies.

This book didn’t really tick any of the boxes on the list of things I look for in a good thriller and it had quite a few of the things that make me turn off (including scenes featuring poo). I found the characters flat and uninteresting which is probably the biggest problem I can have with a thriller. If characters are to be unlikeable I want them to be really unlikeable; the kind of people whose painful demise I guiltily yet eagerly anticipate. Here I just thought the two main characters were dull and I didn’t much care which of them lived, died or got the girl. The main woman was a non event; being defined only by her relationship to the men in the story and having a laughingly unbelievable relationship to her husband.

The story was a bit better than the characters but its cartoonish quality resulted in me not really being able to care about its many, increasingly implausible twists and I found myself picking apart relatively minor things like dodgy physics and technology. In a book I am enjoying I let that kind of thing was over me but here I wasn’t really engaged by the story and so the things stood out more (I can’t go into more detail without spoiling). Another thing which leapt out rather disconcertingly was the clunky product placements for brands of fridge, beer, furniture, clothing and so on. I go to some lengths to avoid being advertised at constantly so it really annoys me when it happens as part of a narrative. For me the ending to the book lost it half a star on my personal rating scale, seeming to lose the guts to be a tale of true noir right at the crucial moment and having a very clunky denouement.

I have something of a soft spot for high class thieves (blame my mother’s yen for Cary Grant which resulted in me watching To Catch a Thief dozens of times as a kid) so I was probably predisposed to liking this novel but it was not to be. To me it felt like a loosely connected series of vignettes in which bad stuff happened to not very nice people (and one poor dog) and not a lot in the way of thrills. As always alternative opinions are available and you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

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Headhunters has received more positive reviews at A Common ReaderNordic Bookblog Petrona

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My rating 2/5
Narrator Sean Barrett
Publisher Random House Audiobooks [2010]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from
Length 7 hours 50 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source I bought it

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Review: Burned by Thomas Enger

On his first day back at work after nearly 2 years’ absence Henning Juul, a reporter for an online news outlet, is immediately thrown into a major investigation. A young female film student has been found (by the ubiquitous dog walker) stoned to death inside a tent in an Oslo public park. Due to the manner of death and the specific body mutilations, and the fact the girl’s boyfriend is Muslim, the official investigation is quick to focus on a possible religious angle to the crime but Henning feels there is more at play. However he’s not even sure he can function as a journalist after so long out of the game, and takes a while to find his feet.

There was much to like about this book though, for me, the plot was a bit of a let down. Starting with the positives though the characters are all first rate; even the ones I hated were entirely believable and well drawn. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Juul is a damaged man, both physically and psychologically, since losing his young son Jonas in a house fire two years previously. The guilt, the obsessive changing of smoke alarm batteries, the disconnection from the people around him, the desperation to find something ‘normal’ to cling on to, all help to build up a very credible picture of Henning Juul. What I liked most is that he is not an entirely sympathetic character and I suspect this must have been harder to tease out than someone who engenders nothing but compassion in the reader.

The character I particularly despised was Detective Inspector Bjarne Brogleand who is one of the two police investigators on the case and he spends his every waking moment fantasizing about his partner, a female cop. The language he uses in his thoughts is crude and disgusting and the thoughts themselves made me angry more than once but it is a realistic depiction of the kind of man who sees women as nothing more than sexual objects. Credible though he undoubtedly is I’m really not going to line up to spend any more time in his repugnant company.

The story started well, incorporating its gruesome but not gratuitous opening scene into a broader narrative that seemed to be heading in an interesting direction. It also gave a great depiction of modern journalism where online news has an insatiable need for new content to the point that veracity and accuracy are less important than having something new a few minutes before the competitors have it. The discussion of the disparity between what people say they want to read and what online outlets know (from click-through data) people actually read was particularly poignant given recent events in the UK media. But about half-way through the book I really did lose interest in what I found to be an increasingly disjointed and, at times, downright nonsensical, plot. I can’t say too much without giving spoilers but there was quite a bit that didn’t ring true for me. Things like Juul having a highly placed ‘Deep Throat’ style informant (who never slept and knew absolutely everything going on in official circles) and the triple-twist to the crime’s resolution just felt a bit too contrived for me. In the end it felt like a few too many ideas had been thrown in at the last minute and one or two could have been saved for a future outing. I did like the loose-end feel to the story though (which is not one for those obsessed with justice being done).

I didn’t deliberately pluck this book from my TBR pile in light of recent events in Norway but once I had decided to read it I hoped it might shed some light on its setting. In that I was for the most part disappointed, though perhaps learning that Norwegian society is very similar to my own is the lesson I’m meant to learn from my global reading. Overall I thought this a solid debut novel, particularly with respect to its characters, with a nicely unnoticeable translation by Charlotte Barslund (I tend only to think about translations when the language doesn’t feel right and that never happened here). The plotting will need to improve though for the series to deliver on the promise it shows here.

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Burned is Thomas Enger’s first crime novel and it has been reviewed at Nordic Bookblog

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My rating 3/5
Translator Charlotte Barslund
Publisher Faber and Faber [2011]
ISBN 9780571275175
Length 399 pages
Format hardcover
Book Series #1 in the Henning Juul series
Source I bought it