If you are following the Nordic Noir series Wisting on BBC 4, you might be interested to learn more about the Norwegian crime writer who wrote the books on which the series is based.
The Nordic Noir Book Club in London met the Norwegian Chief Inspector who turned to crime writing on 22. May 2017.
Jørn Lier Horst is one of the most popular crime writers in Scandinavia. In his native Norway, he sells about 1,000 books a day. He has won the most prestigious awards including the Riverton Prize for the best Norwegian crime novel, The Glass Key and The Martin Beck Award for The Hunting Dogs. Like his compatriot, Jo Nesbø, Lier Horst enjoys international success with his William Wisting series – translated for publication in 25 countries from Japan to Portugal. In the UK, where Sandstone Press has published six of his novels, his seat in the Valhalla of Nordic Noir was cemented with the 2016 Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year for The Caveman. Book 10 in the Wisting series, Ordeal, was published in 2016, and a prequel, When it Grows Dark, was published just a few months ago in the UK. When we met with Lier Horst, the British fans of Scandinavian TV crime series were already looking forward to adaptations of six of his Wisting novels. The current series of 10 episodes (2019-20) are based on The Caveman and The Hunting Dogs.
From Police Investigator to Crime Writer
Jørn Lier Horst is a Former Senior Investigating Officer in Norway – and it shows in his popular William Wisting series. He has said that working as a chief investigator allowed him to “go behind the barrier tapes and to walk among the remains and traces of severe crimes. See the aftermath of a relentless struggle. Stepping into rooms that have been closed yet contain unexplored secrets.” This professional experience and how it has changed him as a human being is essentially where he would also like to bring his readers. Lier Horst has the following interesting perspective on how his background has influenced and strengthened his crime writing:
The police force provides an excellent advantage point for observing society, as well as an excellent starting point for writing realistic crime fiction. Sooner or later, the ineffective aspects of our society end up on the police’s plate. I write crime novels in an attempt to tell something about our modern welfare system that gives honest promises to be protective and inclusive, yet fail so many of its inhabitants – at the same time I try to give my readers an exciting and riveting story.”
William Wisting – A Fearless Policeman
The jury for the Petrona Award explained its choice of Lier Horst’s The Caveman for the 2016 award with the following words:
All the books in the ‘William Wisting’ series have had compelling narratives and The Caveman is no exception, exploring a Norwegian society where, in a supposedly close-knit community, a man can lie dead at home unnoticed and unmourned for weeks. Excellent plotting, well-drawn characters and writing of the highest quality make this book a worthy winner of the 2016 Petrona Award.
Through the, so far, ten books, Wisting has developed and changed in step with the Norwegian society. He has seen a growing sense of insecurity and how crime has become rougher and more professionalised. As the world around him has become darker, so has Wisting become increasingly disillusioned. Lier Horst explains his choice of writing a prequel to the series – with the recently published When it Grows Dark – by saying that he has in many ways written Wisting into a darkness and had therefore been wanting to go back, to find out how it started and how he really was before the crime trend accelerated in the negative direction:
What I found out when I wrote was that Wisting is the same then as now. Patient and understanding, and with the same driving force, namely the eternal belief to succeed. It has always been greater than the fear of failure. It has made Wisting a fearless policeman.”
In this way, Wisting is both similar to and different from the well-known Nordic Noir detectives. While he certainly has no illusions about living in an earthly welfare paradise, he is mustering a reassuring and socially concerned defence against the forces that threaten to break down the trusting relationships through which social welfare in the Nordic countries is formed and maintained. Wisting, therefore, is a new kind of (sober) police detective in Nordic Noir, at the same time as the novels maintain the stock Nordic Noir trait, which Jørn Lier Horst has succinctly defined as a crime narrative that fascinate readers around the world “by what we might call ‘Nordic melancholy’ concocted from winter darkness, midnight sun, and immense, desolate landscapes”:
The taciturn, slightly uncommunicative heroes are lone wolves living in a barren, cold part of the world, constantly on an uncompromising pursuit of truth and clarity. What’s more, the entire idea of paradise lost is a prominent feature of Nordic crime: the social-democratic efficient society attacked from within by violence, corruption and homicide.
In May 2017, Nordic Noir fans enjoyed a conversation with Jørn Lier Horst, Lone Theils and Stefan Ahnhem about their crime novels, Nordic Noir and social justice at a Book Club event at JuJu’s in East London.