Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst

Column: Literature In Review   |   Date Published: Thursday, 16 March 17   |   Author: Cara Lennon   |   1 week ago

     [Affirm Press; 2017]

“Obviously I’ll do my best, but the most logical explanation is probably that, somewhere out at sea, there’s a bag of severed body parts.” Enter Police Inspector William Wisting – competent, moderate, and afflicted with ‘the menopause’ rather than a drinking problem or a tortured past. Wisting’s dry understatement and focus on procedural police work are hallmarks of Scandi noir. Scandi noir (a.k.a. Scandinavian noir or Nordic noir) is a genre that’s slowly starting to penetrate the Australian popular consciousness. Most famously with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but also with television series such as Wallander and The Bridge.

Characterised as much by what isn’t there as what is, Scandi noir tends to abstain from the histrionic interpersonal drama and gratuitously voyeuristic approach to gore that’s present in other crime fiction traditions. Instead of revelling in the horror of the violence depicted, it chooses to turn its magnifying glass on the society that produces the violence. While not exactly realistic, and as dependent on tropes as any other genre fiction, Scandi noir takes place in a plausible approximation of reality, winding social commentary throughout the onslaught of bodies – or in this case, dismembered feet.

Dregs is no exception to the conventions of Scandi noir. At the height of the holiday season Wisting faces the prospect of a bin bag of body parts bobbing free somewhere amongst islands peopled with (literal) happy campers. And he simply gets on with it, pausing here and there for the odd chat about rehabilitative vs punitive approaches to justice. Or on how under-resourced the police force is, or on the police’s role in the public’s perception of their security.

Horst’s mild, clinical writing style may be a hangover from his own career as a policeman; or conscious deference to the genre; or in part a result of Dregs being translated from Norwegian – translation being a process that can result in a book seeming neatly assembled rather than written. At any rate, it’s in itself a pleasingly subtle misdirect, like when a kindly doctor says you’re host to a carnivorous parasite, but he does it so nicely it seems like a whimsical mishap rather than an absurdly grotesque catastrophe.

In particular, the lack of on the nose dialogue or overt cues as to whether a given situation in Dregs is dangerous, comedic or macabre has the effect of building the mood in slow waves.

If your palette is more acclimatised to noir’s recent dark candy offerings, such as Jessica Jones, think of Dregs as a bowl of hi-fibre cereal – less titillating, better for you, and at the end of the day, immensely satisfying.




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