For many, the term “Nordic Noir” has come to describe their Saturday evening television viewing and, indeed, the success of shows such as The Killing, The Bridge, and Wallander, has brought the genre firmly into the public consciousness. However, long before BBC 4 got in on the act, Nordic Noir was being defined and developed not on screen but in print, first in Maj Sjȍwall and Per Wahlȍȍ’s seminal Martin Beck series in the 1960s and, more recently, by authors such as Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo. To that list we might now add Jorn Lier Horst, still relatively unknown in this country but already an award-winning author of ten novels in his native Norway.
Closed for Winter is the second of Horst’s novels to be translated into English. Featuring the regular protagonist, Chief Inspector William Wisting, the novel follows the formula set out by Sjȍwall and Wahlȍȍ in the 1960s, combining the often mundane procedural details of crime investigation with contemporary social commentary. In the case of Closed for Winter, that social commentary concerns the recent influx from Eastern Europe, and the attendant rise in petty crime and cross-cultural tensions, giving the novel something of a contemporary resonance here in the UK. Horst does his best to be sympathetic, but the handling of the theme is a little heavy-handed, and Wisting’s conclusion that theirs was a “type of criminality that arose from necessity rather than immorality…but it was not a justification” is about as deep as things get.
The police procedural elements of the novel, meanwhile, are given added credibility by the fact that Horst is a former Senior Investigating Officer in the Norwegian police. This results in some interesting insights, such as how to acquire DNA evidence from an incinerated corpse, the perception of the media as partners in (solving) crime, and even details of Wisting’s preferred document management system (it’s more interesting than it sounds). But Horst can’t resist throwing in a few clichés too: cop’s daughter inexplicably places herself in danger and becomes embroiled in the crime, cop’s family life suffers as investigation leads to late nights and early starts, cop washes down last remaining painkiller with dregs of cold coffee. And one potentially interesting metafictional feature – cop’s daughter decides to write detective novel – is frustratingly underdeveloped. What begins as a promising treatise into the development of the Golden-Age detective novel tails off into little more than an unnecessary diversion.
But perhaps such criticism is unfair. After all, the job of such genre fiction is to entertain. In that respect, the plot is complex without becoming Byzantine, with a few minor but pleasing twists to keep the reader on their toes. The writing is functional rather than thrilling, although this may be down in part to something being lost in translation (we can only hope that lines such as “there was something about [him] that titillated her curiosity” sounded better in the original Norwegian). Also frustrating are the very short chapters (some 75 of them crammed into around 300 pages). The cynic might suspect the novel was written with television adaptation in mind, but the result of the rapid switches in scene and perspective is a slightly disjointed reading experience with little time to stop and take stock of character development and plot.
All said, Closed for Winter is pretty much a stock police procedural. For those bitten by the Nordic Noir bug (and I count myself amongst that number), there is more than enough snow, corpses, and hints of gothic darkness to satisfy. Those who seek aesthetic or philosophical depth from their reading might, on the other hand, find it more a case of “move along now, nothing to see here”.