My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"[...] another bird struck the car, a black ball hurtling through the air before bouncing off the bonnet and disappearing above the windscreen."
"meh, Adjective 1. Uninspiring, unexceptional."
Meh is precisely how I would describe Jørn Lier Horst's "Closed for Winter (2011), a highly acclaimed novel, a readers' and critics' favorite and winner of the Norwegian Booksellers Prize 2012. The back cover blurb say "Top class crime writing," "Classic police procedural from an author who knows what he is doing." Well, yet again I demonstrate my inability to appreciate great crime novels: I have found this procedural slash thriller tedious and tepid. Worse, the writing - or perhaps the translation - is far from impressive. Another unexceptional Scandinavian attempt to capitalize on Stieg Larsson phenomenon: not a bad book, but oh-so-totally paint-by-numbers.
This is the seventh book in the apparently successful William Wisting series: the protagonist, Chief Inspector in the CID in Larvik, Southern Norway, has just returned to work after taking a sick leave caused by burnout ("mental exhaustion," says the translator), when a man finds his summer cottage broken into and burglarized. What's worse, on the door of the neighboring cottage he finds blood spatters and then a dead body. CI Wisting heads the investigation which eventually has to deal with several murders and may involve connections to Lithuanian gangs and drug trafficking in Western Europe. Another thread has Wisting's daughter, Line, a journalist and an aspiring writer, experiencing problems in the relationship with her boyfriend. The thread turns out to be important not only in the "fluff," personal layer of the novel; it also plays quite a substantial role in the criminal story.
There are some non-standard, neat touches in the plot - the hearse carrying a victim's body to the autopsy disappears, Wisting's car with the full documentation of the case is stolen - but the general structure of the relatively complicated plot is based on a cliché template and I have been able to predict a few outcomes even though I am usually the last reader to figure out the plot twists. And - as mentioned quite early in the novel - dead birds keep falling from the sky. Thousands of them. Yet the author does not even manage to take full advantage of such a promising twist.
The English translation occasionally sounds awkward and unnatural, but maybe the Norwegian original is not that well written. One can find cheap and tacky passages like:
"Wisting wondered what the missing eyes had gazed on not so long ago, and when they had last looked on the woman in the photograph."The passage is about a dead man whose face "had been ripped open by the seagulls' beaks and claws." I am also curious why the author almost always uses both the given name and the surname of incidental characters. If it is the Norwegian custom, then it's fine, of course, one can get accustomed to it, but it reads awkward.
The part of the novel that I quite like is Wisting's visit to Vilnius to get statements from Lithuanian witnesses. Clichés abound, but at least it breaks the monotony of a run-of-the-mill procedural. Bottom line: not a bad book, readable, and perhaps even interesting, but not even remotely close to the best European crime writing of today, as represented by the works of Denise Mina, Karin Fossum, or Henning Mankell.
Two and a half stars.
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