The Katharina Code (The Cold Case Quartet #1), by Jørn Lier Horst

Nine stars

I have always had great admiration for Jørn Lier Horst and his William Wisting series. A Norwegian homicide detective, Wisting seems able to pace himself through his investigations while always extracting just what is needed at the right time to solve a case and bring the perpetrator to justice. However, there are those cases that slip through the fingers, such as the one of Katharina Haugen. Wisting has never been able to solve it, but pulls out the case files each year on the anniversary of her disappearance. Now twenty-four years on, Wisting goes through the same routine: examining case notes, photos, and trying to crack a scribbled code that she left on her table before disappearing. Part of the annual process is to visit her husband, Martin, who remains lost without his wife. However, Martin is nowhere to be found when Wisting visits this year, adding curiosity to the number of other emotions rushing through him. When a detective from Kripos, the Norwegian national police service, pays Wisting a visit, there is something interesting to share. Another mysterious cold case, the disappearance of teenager Nadia Krogh many years ago, has new life. Re-evaluating the ransom note left by her apparent captors shows fingerprints belonging to Martin Haugen. Could there be a link here? Wisting’s daughter, Line, has been itching to get back to work as a journalist, unable to make her maternity leave pass fast enough. With the Krogh case returning to prominence, Line begins a podcast related to the crime, seeking to eke out new details that could open the case wide open. With Kripos wanting to observe Martin Haugen for the time being, Wisting helps extract information from the man he has come to know over the past two decades, in hopes of solving both cases. However, nothing is quite as easy as it seems and Wisting will have to find a way to lure the killer out. A masterful branch-off of Horst’s work, this ‘sub-series’ could get really interesting as series fans get to see William Wisting in a new light. A must-read for series fans and those who love a good Scandinavian police procedural as ‘noir’ as they come!

Jørn Lier Horst is one of the great Scandinavian police procedural writers I have had the pleasure to read over the years. His stories are well-paced and develop effectively for the reader, while also adding wonderfully colourful characters and strong plots. As a protagonist, William Wisting proves to be both entertaining and effective in his delivery as a superior sleuth. While not published in English (yet!), the first part of the series is said to develop in such a way that the reader can see a strong husband and equal partner in a great marriage, something that is hinted at in each book that has been translated and acts as a lingering backstory. His wife gone and children grown, Wisting works hard to put his work at the forefront of his life, compartmentalising the past that can no longer be changed. Wisting’s development comes in the form of chasing the killers that lurk in the shadows, as well as living life as a grandfather and effective parental helper to his daughter, Line. Others within the story find a way to make their mark, keeping the reader highly entertained. There is much to say about them, as they not only shape the entire series, but what is sure to be this collection of revisited cold cases. New ideas injected into old cases alongside Wisting’s strong and demanding approach can only help things move along effectively. I am looking forward to seeing what Horst has to offer and how these new faces will change the dynamic of a strong series. The story here is one that is by no means unique, but works so very well. Looking well into the past, Wisting is forced to come to terms with the limits on his detective abilities with a case that has stumped him. Even with fresh eyes, there are sometimes limits to what can be accomplished, until a spark ignites the entire investigation. With new pathways and potentially new approaches to old cases, Wisting and the rest of the group can retake control and put things to bed once and for all. I am eager to see how this quartet of cold case novels works and whether it will be the swan song for William Wisting, or breathe new life into this well-established detective. Hints of his retirement are embedded within this piece, so it will be interesting to see what comes of it after all four cold case novels have been completed. With a mix of shorter and elongated chapters, Horst pulls the reader into the story and then teases them as the pace quickens, heading towards a high-paced finale when all is revealed. I have said it before and will do so again, Horst’s work is not lessened by a translation. The fluidity of the work is still strong and seems almost to have been penned in English. There is no jolt or loss of intensity when moving from Norwegian to English, at least not that I can tell. Bring on more for the reader, as the teaser chapters at the end of the book hint at more cold cases that bring fresh sleuthing to long forgotten motives!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another winner. I am excited to see where you take your readers and hope you can lure new fans into this long developing series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: