Jørn Lier Horst, Dregs (2010, Bunnfall, translated by Anne Bruce, 2011)
There’s a kind of detective work in coming to this, the fifth in the Wisting novels, after the television adaptation of books nine and eight of the sequence.
Of course, translators don’t always begin with book one (in this case Nøkkelvitnet (Key Witness, 2004). The first Harry Hole novel by Jo Nesbø, Flaggermusmannen (1997), was translated as The Bat (2012) and it looks like Marekors (2003) was the first to appear, as The Devil’s Star (2005). Perhaps it’s felt that it takes a while for the author to get into his or her stride, perhaps it’s that translation rights are tied up.
There’s a preface that tell us that Wisting is a widowed detective and father to twins, Line and Thomas (I’m not sure the twinnage is obvious in the adaptation), and he works in Larvik. We are told about his colleagues – Nils Hammer, Torunn Borg and their superior, Audun Vetti. Perhaps we should be cautious – but this character seems to have changed sex for the TV series and becomes Andrea Vetti. Interesting. The preface oddly segues into the blurb for the book.
And the setting seems to be Stavern, seven or so kilometres south of Larvik. It’s part of the Larvik municipality in Vestfold County, so perhaps close enough.
Wisting is tired and listless and needs tests from his doctor, but is distracted by a left foot in a training shoe washing up on the shore. This is bad enough – but it is the second to have done so. Both are left feet, so there is more than one corpse to be accounted for. This is not much to run with (sorry) and a third establishes a pattern. Going through missing persons and inspired by the chain that likely the shoes, they find three missing pensioners and a missing, younger, woman, a former psychiatric patient. And then another woman goes missing, who worked in the rest home where one of the victims had lived.
Meanwhile, his journalist daughter Line has come to town to interview Ken Ronny Hauge, recently released from prison after serving his sentence for killing a policeman back in 1991, as part of a story about the impact of life sentences.
Apparently, it takes a journalist and a detective many pages to figure out the two cases are connected.
And again, I mustn’t assume, but here Line has a developing relationship with Tommy Kvanter, who she is reunited with in the TV series. Perhaps they will split in subsequent books. For that matter, Wisting has a girlfriend, Suzannah, who isn’t in the series.
At the heart of the crime is a group of five men, who were an underground cell in the Second World War and its aftermath, there to resist German occupation and possible Soviet invasion. They’ve long since been disbanded, in part due to their age, but weapons and funds may remain. But is it enough to kill so many times for? And has the close-knit nature of this group been passed on down the generations.
The bulk of the book is told through Wisting’s perspective, in the third person, with a few chapters of Line and a couple of other perspectives. The only action comes towards the end, Line in peril, and much of the mechanics of the plot fall into place. It isn’t neatly sown up, however, with at least one ambiguity and some of the details the detectives uncover may be unrelated to the case.
I was a bit worried at first – there are a couple of clunky moments in the early chapters, as characters repeatedly tell each other things we’ve already be told. But it settles down. A few conversations about synchronicity and coincidence jump out throughout and the smell of coffee is never far from each chapter.