Tense and suspenseful, the only reason to stop racing through the pages of Jorn Lier Horst's Ordeal will be to pause for a quick glance over your shoulder.
When Frank Mandt’s granddaughter, Sofie Lund, inherits his house after his death, she’s hesitant to claim anything that belonged to him. But, she’s the only one supporting her one-year-old daughter, Maja, so she decides to take the house, hoping they can make a go of it. Mandt died after falling down the steps of his basement and was evidently there for three days or so before the body was found. Mandt was known as the Smuggler King and was thought to have turned from booze to drugs in recent years.
Meanwhile, Larvik, Norway-based Chief Inspector William Wisting is afraid the case of missing taxi driver Jens Hummel has grown cold. But when his taxi turns up in a barn on land owned by the late Frank Mandt with blood in the trunk and no signs of Jens, it looks like Wisting’s team might have a murder case on their hands.
Additionally, Wisting’s daughter, Line, a journalist, has moved into a house close to her father’s and is eight months pregnant. Wisting is excited to be a grandfather but worries about the father, an American policeman, not being involved in the child’s life. For her part, Line is settling into her new home, setting about renovating with gusto and getting as much as possible done before the baby arrives. When she meets Sofie Lund, a former schoolmate, at a coffee shop by chance, they rekindle their friendship. Sofie explains to Line why she’s so contemptuous of her grandfather.
“We lived in a small flat right down the street. Mum had an old Opel. She had a lot of trouble with it, and that day it quite simply would not start. We came here to borrow one of the Old Man’s cars, as we’d done loads of times before. He wasn’t at home, but his Volvo was parked outside. Mum let herself in, found the keys and left him a note.”
The back of the chair creaked as Sofie changed position. Her dark hair fell over her face and she brushed it away, smiling uncertainly.
“At Vallermyrene in Porsgrunn, we were stopped by the police,” she said. “I don’t know why. Maybe it was sheer chance; maybe they were keeping a watch on the Old Man and had his cars on a list. Anyway, the police car drove up behind us and switched on the blue flashing lights. Mum pulled in to the side of the road. They asked all sorts of questions and began to look around in the car. Under the seat where I was sitting they found three kilos of hash and one kilo of amphetamines.”
Line’s mouth fell open. “But she couldn’t have known anything about it?”
“She got five years in jail. They regarded as aggravating factors that she had a young child with her and would not cooperate with the police.”
“But didn’t she tell them what had happened?” Line asked. “That she had just borrowed the car?”
“The Old Man denied having anything to do with it. He sacrificed his daughter to get away with it himself.”
“What about the note she had written? That would prove what she had told them.”
“The police never found a note. The Old Man must have burned it or torn it to pieces and flushed it down the loo.”
“So he just sat there and watched your mother get convicted even though she was innocent?”
“He hired expensive lawyers, probably to learn what the case documents said and how much the police knew about him. As far as he was concerned, she was a pawn to be sacrificed. The loss of the drugs was probably more of a blow than what happened to her.”
Line laid her hand protectively on her stomach. “You said that he took her life, though?”
“Mum could not last more than a year in prison. One night she smashed a glass and cut the arteries in her arm. I visited her only once. It was a dreadful experience. It was one thing going behind those thick walls, but even worse coming back out again, leaving her inside.”
Sofie had picked all the petals off the rose. She placed them in a little heap on the tablecloth. “What happened to you when your mother was sent to prison?” Line asked.
“The first few days I stayed here with the Old Man. There was talk of me staying permanently and I thought that would be fine. I knew all the children and had only a short walk to school, but he didn’t want me. It was too much for him, he said. So I was sent to a foster home. I had three of them. First in Arendal, then Hamar and finally Oslo.”
When Sofie enlists Lund’s help in cracking the giant safe in her grandfather’s basement, what they find is shocking and may be very telling when it comes to Mandt’s extensive criminal enterprises.
The safe was kitted out like a cupboard, with three shelves and a drawer at the bottom. On the lowest shelf there were several thick brown envelopes with a few black notebooks. On the middle shelf, a stack of five black ring binders, and on the top shelf bundles of banknotes bound together with rubber bands. Line took one out and handed it to Sofie. They were five hundred kroner notes, fifty thousand in total, she estimated. There were similar bundles of thousand-kroner and two-hundred-kroner notes. In total, there must have been around half a million kroner.
She could not hold back her laughter and it infected Sofie, even though they both knew that the money had not been earned by any honourable means.
Line put the money back and discovered a key that must open the lockable drawer at the bottom. She left it lying while she escorted the man to the front door with Sofie. They could hear that Maja was awake, and Sofie brought her down to the basement.
“Shall we count them?” Line suggested, taking out one of the bundles again.
Sofie nodded and moved Maja to her other hip.
Line stacked the bundles on top of the safe as she counted them, arriving at a total of 480,000. “There’s something else in here,” she said, pulling an envelope from the back of the top shelf. Sofie craned her neck to look when she opened it. “More money,” Line gasped, displaying the contents before emptying the loose notes out beside the bundles. Thousand-kroner notes, maybe as much as a million altogether. They seemed to be discoloured with red ink.
“The proceeds of a robbery,” Line whispered.
She had written about it in an article for the newspaper. Cases used for transporting valuables and the cassettes in ATMs were secured with colour cartridges. When anyone attempted to open them illegally, the colour ampules were activated and the banknotes stained so that they became worthless.
“Put them back again,” Sofie begged. “I need to give Maja some food.”
Line tidied away the money and picked up the little key. “We haven’t checked the drawer,” she said. The key turned without difficulty, and she used it as a handle to pull out the drawer. There was an object there, wrapped in a piece of grey fabric. Line lifted it out, placed it on the floor and unfolded the material. It was a revolver.
Sofie wants nothing to do with the gun, and Line offers to turn it into her father for disposal, hoping for Sofie to remain anonymous. But it’s not that simple, and that gun may hold the key to Wisting’s increasingly cold case.
I really enjoyed this slow burning, intricate mystery. I tend to like my cops world weary and inching toward middle age, and Wisting fits the bill. He’s 55 years old and is beginning to feel the toll that policing can take. Additionally, the unwanted interference of a new Police Chief who doesn’t understand the complexities of the job provides even more obstacles.
Horst’s Wisting is a thoughtful detective, not given to flights of fancy, and he seems to have a firm grip on how an investigation should be conducted—even if he has pushback on more than one front. And, Horst knows his subject: he’s a former Senior Investigating Officer himself, which brings a welcome authenticity to this nuanced, complex procedural.
Ordeal will be of great appeal to fans of highly realistic, thoughtful procedurals that operate by the book while offering up faceted glimpses into the personal lives of the main players. This is the fifth Wisting novel to be translated into English, beginning with Closed for Winter, and it seems to stand well on its own—although it never hurts to start at the beginning. This one takes a bit to get off the ground, but readers will be rewarded for their patience.
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