Thursday 2 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce

To start off this series of posts on the first ten Petrona Award winners, we turn to Barry Forshaw, co-creator of and former judge for the Petrona Award* and leading expert on Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

Here is his contemporaneous review of the 2016 Petrona Award winner: THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce and published by Sandstone Press in 2015.

While the excellent Chief Inspector William Wisting novels of Jørn Lier Horst have remained caviar to the general (much appreciated by those lucky enough to discover them, but falling short of the kind of sales accorded to some other, lesser, Scandinavian writers), the fourth novel in English to feature the detective, THE CAVEMAN, may well be the breakthrough book in the UK for this most unusual crime writer (Horst is Norwegian) - particularly in the civilised translation by the ever-reliable Anne Bruce. Once again, the novel utilises the author’s own personal experience, which marries the authenticity of the police procedural with a slightly phantasmagorical approach (rendering Norway in somewhat unreal but always pungent fashion). The decayed body of a man is discovered sitting in front of his television set; he has been dead for months. Viggo Hansen - when alive - was an inconspicuous figure, known to few, despite the fact that he was part of a close-knit community. Detective Wisting’s daughter Line is a reporter, and decides to focus her attention on the death of this unremarkable man. But another body discovered in the forest presents an unexpected revelation, and soon Wisting is involved in one of the most ambitious criminal investigations in the history of Norway - one that even involves the CIA. 

We are given here a ticking clock scenario (which admirers of Jørn Lier Horst will be aware that he is extremely adroit at delivering), but there is a peculiar and very individual character to this book which marks it out from its predecessors: a structure that may appear to be conventional on the surface, but which is subtly fragmented, and a utilisation of language which seems more idiosyncratic and unorthodox than before. Non-Norwegian readers may, of course, wonder how much of this is the province of Horst himself and how much of it is due to the linguistic intervention of Anne Bruce, but that particular conundrum is a matter for academic debate. All that finally matters is that THE CAVEMAN is yet another thoroughly disquieting entry from the talented Mr Horst.

Barry Forshaw @ Crime Time

[*Click here for the reason the Petrona Award was founded.]

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