Years of experience in the field and unquestionable talent made Jørn Lier Horst one of the most successful crime writers in Scandinavia. He has built his writing career on consistent police procedurals, intriguing stories, well-drawn characters, and a unique Nordic feel. Intelligent and engaging plots offer realistic insight into the work of both Norwegian police and press, and small details invite readers into the contemporary Norwegian world. In his latest novel The Inner Darkness / Illvilje third of the Cold Case Quartet, Lier Horst places Chief Inspector William Wisting in a really uncomfortable position and sends him on a journey of ambiguity.
Serial killer Tom Kerr has already spent years in prison for horrendous murders of two women but suddenly he’s ready to talk, to confess to another killing and show the burial place of his third victim whose body has never been found. The site visit has been meticulously arranged by the Oslo unit led by Adrian Stiller, specialising in cold cases; dedicated yet somewhat following own agenda. On the day the man is chained and handcuffed, and dogs and policemen with guns are present. Selected people have been allowed to participate, amongst them Wisting, as this takes place in the district he’s responsible, and his daughter Line in her capacity as an investigative journalist filming the proceedings for a documentary. Unfortunately, Kerr manages to trick everyone: trip over a wire resulting in a grenade explosion injuring several policemen, and to escape. It becomes obvious that he wouldn’t have been able to do that without outside help. As his lawyer, quite a provocative Claes Thancke seems in the dark, the police focus on finding not only the prisoner who outwitted them but his accomplice as well. The aptly named the Other One was considered in earlier investigations yet never found. Yet everything point to him as this was the only way to explain how this whole embarrassing and dangerous event had happened.
Wisting gets the blame and his decisions and handling of the situation is promptly referred to the Internal Affairs, facing yet again his nemesis Terje Nordbo, and feeling both frustrated and angry but not resigned to sitting quiet at home while the massive manhunt goes on. His team continue the search, bouncing off ideas, digging through the old documents, following various connections and getting closer to find answers, and hopefully two ruthless sadists.
Line’s connection in the case goes through various ups and downs. As a civilian she is not supposed to be so involved in the investigation nor to follow her own instincts and often stumbling into dangerous situations. Yet her reporting skills, plus a nose for an interesting story makes her question all details not available during the search. This constant battle of wills between a need to know and share information to the public against duty of confidentiality adds tension not only to the plot but also to the relationship with her father and some of his team members. I wonder how their rapport will be developing further, with Wisting retiring one day (hopefully not yet!) and her own professional career precariously based on the criminal events near home. Often too close to home.
The graphic descriptions of sexual violence were difficult to digest but understandably they were used as a device to analyse the notions of good and evil. Of course, this exploration is as old as the world itself, and the crime fiction would not exist without these two opposites. In the context of the modern civilised Norwegian society, it still terrifies: ‘Evil is the inner darkness. An urge to inflict pain on other human beings.’
Strong characterisation and well-constructed story make The Inner Darkness an interesting, thoughtful and fascinating read. Anne Bruce’s translation is superb as always, as over the course of several books she became so familiar with the author’s engaging style, alert to any nuances or changes in tempo of narration.