The Real Ordeal

Jørn Lier Horst, Ordeal (2015, Blindgang, translated by Anne Bruce, 2016)
Ordeal“As a criminal investigator, I have never believed in coincidence. There are always explanations. Patterns, threads and logical connections. […] But I must admit that there is a place for coincidences in life, outwith the rules laid down by the laws of nature and described by the province of science.”

Coincidence and synchronicity, especially the former, reverberate through the Wisting series. William Wisting is investigating a case that impinges on an old case or is struggling after a case has gone cold and his daughter, Line Wisting is investigating a death or something criminally related. It takes most of the book for a detective and a journalist to work it out, even if it is blindingly obvious to we, the oh so wise reader.

Of course, this is Lier Horst’s schtick.

In Columbo, there is no mystery as such — we see the murder committed and Lt Columbo shows up, alights on the perp straight away, and spends the next fifty minutes being underestimated as he works towards a confession. It’s Crime and Punishment.

Here we have a detective with no visible frailties, no drinking habit, no crossword obsession, even his mourning for a dead wife seems understated. He does have a habit of standing his daughter up. And we know he is absolutely honest, even if that means questioning the honesty of other police officers. I’d committed to reading all of these, although, somehow, there’s something missing.

And then Ordeal offers some really snazzy plotting.

Line, who has bought the house that Viggo Hansen died in four months before the events of The Caveman, is a month or so away from giving birth. She runs into an old schoolfriend, Sofie Lund, who has a toddler and the two become friends, before she discovers Sofie is the granddaughter of Frank Mundt, a local crime kingpin who died falling down the stairs of his house at the start of the year. The house has a safe in its basement. The safe contains secrets.

Wisting, meanwhile, is beginning to despair of solving the mystery of a missing taxi driver, Jens Hummel, who vanished just before Mundt’s death. The chief of police wants a going nowhere case and it begins to look like the assistant chief of police, Catherine Thiis, wants him. At last there is a breakthrough, when Wisting’s ex points him towards someone behaving oddly in her cafe bar — and it begins to look as if Hummel has been mixed up with something.

And then a gun is found, which fired the bullet which killed a young woman on New Year’s Eve in Kristiansand, just before Hummel disappeared and Mundt died.

Coincidence?

Is the pope a protestant?

The Kristiansand police have arrested the person who fired the shot on New Year’s Eve, and Wisting realises that he has to prove them innocent to solve his own case. This takes him out of his usual Norwegian haunts and into reputational danger, whilst Line herself is in jeopardy in a bit of a by-the-numbers way. One twist seems a little obvious, but I suspect this is what Lier Horst wanted, and everything else comes into focus in a pleasing way.

There is a moment which seems a little out of character for Wisting — a point when he seems to gain evidence without due cause, but perhaps this is acceptable in Norwegian policing. The pace builds nicely, and Lier Horst’s chapters, usually four or five pages long, are sometimes less than a page.

I think this is the best book of the series yet translated and you could probably even start here — even if there weren’t the publisher’s preface, Lier Horst tends to remind you who the recurring characters are on first appearance.

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