If you’re familiar with the first book in this series, The Katharina Code, or, indeed, any of the chief inspector William Wisting novels for that matter, you will know just how good a writer Jørn Lier Horst is. As someone who appreciates Lier Horst, reading this novel was like catching up with an old friend. He’s an author who has become a bit of a Scandi-noir legend and although that’s a big thing it’s also a bit of a limiting description because Lier Horst’s novels stand comparison with the best police procedurals from anywhere in the world.
The Cabin is polished and stylish and easy to read, it reminds me of Ian Rankin in the way Lier Horst has been able to develop his character over a number of stories without losing the initial energy and dynamism that made the early books so good. Of course, that is down to fine storytelling and character; Wisting is a cracking creation, he’s more interesting and complex than this simple but true definition from Lier Horst implies:
“The taciturn, slightly uncommunicative Nordic crime heroes have a particularly dark aura, they are lone wolves living in a barren, cold part of the world, constantly embarked on an uncompromising pursuit of truth and clarity.”
This is a riveting police procedural, it’s a page turner, inventive and thrilling by turns. Lier Horst knows how to create tension and to capture the imagination of the reader with a mystery that is intriguing and intelligent. It’s a bit fatuous to rank his novels but this is among his best and it makes my mouth water to think that there are still two more books in this series to go. Lier Horst is very good at digging into the underbelly of Norway’s ordered, well off society to find interesting crime stories that subvert the image of the contented nation.
18th August, 2018, is not a normal Monday morning, Chief Inspector William Wisting has been called to the Oslo office of Johan Olav Lyngh, the Director General of Public Prosecutions. He has a delicate case that needs someone who can work on it under the press radar. Senior Labour politician Bernhard Clausen, 68, died over the weekend in hospital, a heart attack, no suspicious circumstances, in fact nothing out of the ordinary. Clausen had no close relatives so the possessions were handed to his friend Walter Krum, the Labour Party’s chief organiser, that included the keys to Clausen’s summer cabin in Stavern (actually a six-bedroom house). Krum went to the house to check for government papers and party documents only to find 5 million in Euros/Sterling and 5 million in US dollars in a locked room. Krum reported it straight away, that much unaccounted for money in the possession of a politician could represent a national security issue, so the matter has to investigated very discreetly. Clausen had been Foreign Secretary and Minster for Health. Wisting is released from all other duties and has access to any state resources to find out where the money came from.
Clausen’s wife, Lisa, had previously died from cancer, controversially denied a treatment that his own Health Department had not yet approved. That was fifteen years ago in 2003 and his son, Lennart, died in a crash only a few months later. Wisting hands over his normal duties to his deputy and ropes in Espen Mortensen, crime scene tech., for this case. The first job for the two men is to collect the money. The fear is it could come from a secret government fund (money intend to discreetly pay a kidnap ransom, or even a contract bribe?). The money seems to have been in the cabin since the early 2000s. The only thing they find, apart from the 80M Krona is a phone number on a scrap of paper. The nutty problem is how to talk to politicians and friends without raising suspicion something is going on. That night the cabin is burned to the ground, a fire that appeared to emanate from the area of the locked room, it’s no accident. The up side is that it gives Wisting cover for his investigation. Clausen’s son Lennart had connections to a biker gang, could this be something to do with drugs? Then the Public Prosecutor remembers a letter that was sent years back suggesting Clausen was somehow implicated in the Gjersjø case where a twenty-two-year-old man, Simon Meier, disappeared at the lake while on a fishing trip. There was a major robbery at Gardermoen airport around the same time. Wisting decides to take a look at the Gjersjø case, only now it’s with the cold case crimes department for re-examination. Stiller is in charge of the file but both Wisting and his daughter, Lina, a journalist, have had a bad experience of working with him. Wisting is reluctant to bring Stiller in on the investigation so he recruits Lina to contact him and see what she can learn. Assuming the money doesn’t have national security implications she can have the story when all’s done. This is a nice extra layer of tension in the story. Why did Clausen have the money and who burned down the cabin? They are just the first questions in this clever thriller.
It won’t surprise readers that Jørn Lier Horst was a senior investigative police officer in Vestfold, Norway, before becoming a writer, the details in his books seem to have an authenticity about them. He’s been publishing crime novels since 2004 and they have been translated into English since 2011 by long time collaborator, Anne Bruce. Dregs, 2011, first introduced an English speaking audience to Chief Inspector William Wisting. Book I of the Cold Cases Quartet, The Katharina Code (Michael Joseph, 2018) was the winner of the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel. If you get the chance read that before The Cabin but it isn’t essential. The Cabin was originally published in Norway as Det Innerste Rommet in 2018.
The Cabin is a top-notch police procedural, Lier Horst deserves a wide audience for this gripping read.
Paul Burke 4/4
The Cabin by Jørn Lier Horst
Michael Joseph 9780241405963 pbk Aug 2019