Death Deserved is an odd one. You might arrive expecting Wisting but I kept being reminded of Bergerac. Main protagonist Alexander Blix has a boss, Fosse, who got where he has by doing things by the book: he likes being in the media and doesn’t seem to spend any time doing actual detectivey stuff. So as I visualise the pair I’m seeing a young John Nettles and Sean Arnold. I also think I’ve found a reference to The Gift by the Velvet Underground on page 187, though it may just be a stylish twist by translator Anne Bruce. Let me know if you agree in the comments.
I’ve long been a fan of Thomas Enger’s gritty, humane, moral thrillers, and Jørn Lier Horst’s Wisting series has made a big splash both in print and on BBC FOUR. I spend a bit of time wondering how they’ve worked together in practice on this new series. I imagine trading and bargaining: we’ll have realism in paragraph 4 and then you can add some social commentary in paragraph 6. And I know that of course, of course, it didn’t work like that at all. I can’t help it though and I think that tells me something about me as a reader but also the way Death Deserved presents its plotline – the whole point of a thriller like this is not just whether it has you barrelling along at a hundred miles an hour (which this one does, by the way) but whether you think about its themes afterwards.
It’s a mark of the quality of a book like Death Deserved that you think that every reaction you make has been planned by the writers. All that attention to detail – it’s a book about counting down, that just happens to have 100 chapters – pays off. Perhaps our awareness of this is heightened because the novel asks us to think about what is real, and what is staged, what is moral and what is not, and what does it mean to be famous. Part of the action takes place on a Big Brother-style TV set where these issues are raised in a tabloid way and we are, moreover, aware that reality is created for us; the serial killer delights in the presentation and promotion of each individual killer and the idea of the series; the starring role given to a celebrity blogger reminding us that so much of this is manufactured, by the content creators but also media outlets clamouring for clicks. What is a deserved death anyway? And we’re aware of Horst and Enger feeding our own need to interact: there are two strong red herrings presented for us and I for one am gutted the killer turns out not to have been a particular character. There’s enough of a clue for us to have worked it out though.
The interaction and tension between police and press has been done before but not always at this quality. We like Blix, blogger-and-key-protagonist Emma Ramm and most of the characters. They are solid and for this kind of title that is a key criterion, as Ramm would say. Indeed, thinking of other books I have read (and not reviewed, before you have a look for them) what stands out here is that Horst and Enger seem interested in these characters: Blix and co are not created for the amusement of the reader or the writers, or to show how clever the writers are. They are three-dimensional characters with a compelling joint back story and we hope they will be given the space to develop in the Blix and Ramm series as it unfolds.
Thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the review copy.