Police procedurals don’t come much better than the, now Chief Inspector, Wisting novels. The Inner Darkness is instantly exciting; a dangerous criminal escapes, it’s a familiar trope but Lier Horst adds a layer of complexity to the event, an ulterior motive, that makes it a more intriguing story. This tale never loses its grip; this is consummate plotting and immersive story tellingly. There’s plenty of Scandi-noir grit, an intimate understanding of police matters and genuinely rounded and interesting characters. To top it all Lier Horst knows just how to make a mystery zing with a dark brooding atmosphere. If you are into the British and American police procedurals I can’t think of a reason why this wouldn’t also appeal. The translation by Anne Bruce is, as ever, first class.

Chief Inspector Wisting’s daughter Line is a free lance journalist, she works for the police part time and has to be clear where the boundaries are, she’s privilege to a lot of sensitive information, especially today. Line is videoing events as serial killer, Tom Kerr, returns to the scene of his crimes. Kerr promises to take the police to the burial site of his last missing victim, nineteen year old Taran Norum. Kerr has been inside for four years for a series of brutal murders, the bodies dismembered, all were found except Norum. When Kerr offered to disclose the site of her burial and the police get an idea of the area they search with cadaver dogs but find nothing. There’s nothing left but to allow Kerr to lead them to the body, if he is telling the truth and not just toying with everyone, that is. The body is supposedly buried on chief inspector Wisting’s turf. He is waiting on the marshy Eftangland peninsula when the small party from the prison arrives; Kerr, his lawyer, the police guard and camerawoman, Line. Line thinks her father look older, slower; only Kerr with his manacled legs is less agile as they head off to the site of the supposed grave. Wisting doesn’t believe Kerr is remorseful, or being honest, but if there’s  chance of getting the body back for the family they have to take it. As they progress and the terrain gets more awkward there’s no choice but to take off Kerr’s leg chains. Suddenly Kerr makes a run for it, a young officer gets closest when there’s an explosion. The officers are blown back, some wounded. By the time they recover Kerr has a gun and he’s taken off for a wood. Within minutes the police have mobilised a search. But everything is not quite as it seems. While Kerr was inside prison another woman was attacked, murdered and left in the same state as Kerr’s victims, Nanna Thamle from Oslo. It could be a copycat but the police believe Kerr’s partner in crime from before he was caught has gotten bolder and started acting on his own. The operation to bring Kerr out was also an attempt to lure out the second killer/accomplice. It went badly wrong but things are set in place to recover the operation, bring back Kerr and those who helped him escape. They think they know where Kerr is…

The Inner Darkness is polished and stylish, a smooth read. Fans of Rebus will get the way Lier Horst has been able to develop his character over a long running series of stories without losing the energy and dynamism that made the early books so good. Of course, Wisting changes he gets older, this is a great character study. Wisting is complex, Lier Horst says he fits a pattern;

“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 Wisting but he is more nuanced than this implies. This is riveting stuff, 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 an intelligent mystery. 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.

It won’t surprise readers that Jørn Lier Horst was a senior investigative police officer in Vestfold, Norway, before becoming a writer, his books have an authenticity. He’s been publishing crime novels since 2004 and they have been translated into English since 2011. 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, The Cabin followed last year. The Inner Darkness deserves a wide audience. Put it on your Christmas list.

Review by Paul Burke

Michael Joseph, hardback, ISBN 9780241389577, 26/11/20