Interview with Jørn Lier Horst
by Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak
Jørn Lier Horst is a Norwegian author of crime fiction and a former Senior Investigating Officer at Vestfold Police district. His first novel (Key Witness) was based on a true murder story. The best known of his works is the series of mystery novels, whose protagonist is detective William Wisting.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: For many years you worked as a chief inspector, how did it happen that you started to write crime stories? Does your experience of working as a police officer and a detective help you in writing?
Jørn Lier Horst: I have never had any dream of becoming either a cop or a writer, but ended up being both.
I actually remember the night I started writing what eventually became my debut. It was late autumn of 2001. I was home in bed, finishing a Norwegian crime novel. I threw it in the wall and said out loud to my wife, who lay beside me, that this I was able to do better myself - whereupon she replied that then I should do it. I turned off the light and I was lying and turn me in bed for half an hour before I got up and began to write.
My first novel, The Key Witness, is based on what has been described as one of the most bizarre and brutal killings in recent, Norwegian criminal history, namely the murder of Ronald Ramm in 1995.
I started my career as a writer on my first working day in the police. This was the day when Ronald Ramm was found raped and murdered in his own home in my hometown Larvik. It was a thrilling experience to be in such a crime scene. Seeing how there had been a fight to the death going on from room to room until it ended up in the outer corridors where Ramm was found slain and with hands tied. For a young policeman it was a very special feeling to stride over the threshold into a murder crime scene and knowing that I went in the footsteps of an unknown killer.
What really happened at that time almost 20 years ago is still not be known. The killer has never been caught, but the mystery is getting a fictional solution in my novel.
I left the police in September 2013, after nearly 20 years of service. There has been an occupation that in many ways has shaped me as a human being, and traces of that is visible in my books. My work as chief investigator allowed me to go behind the barrier tapes and to walk among the remains and traces of sever crimes. See the remains of a relentless struggle. Stepping into rooms that has been closed and contains unexplored secrets. That's where I like to bring readers. A part of my job was getting to know the killers and rapists, to put me into how they think. Talk to crime victims and their families. There are experiences that help to create an authentic nerve in my books.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: In Poland you have been compared to Jo Nesbo but to me the protagonist created by you, William Wisting is closer to Mankell’s Kurt Wallander than Nesbo’s Harry Hole. What do you think about such a comparison? Whose prose do you feel closer to?
Jørn Lier Horst: I have been compared to Jo Nesbø also in Norway. The reason is that I was the first Norwegian crime writer who tipped him down from the top of the bestseller list. We have different style of writing, but we have the same writing pleasure and perhaps the same claim for ourselves the servers the best story we can put together. We have a direct and sober, yet detailed writing style that has made that we also have in common that we hit a wide audience. You're probably right when you say that I have more in common with Swedish authors Henning Mankell and Håkan Nesser.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: While working on “The Caveman” (the Polish title “Jaskiniowiec”) you were inspired by Highway of Tear murders, weren’t you? How big influence was it and why did you decide to use exactly this story in your book?
Jørn Lier Horst: I was introduced to the stories about this alleged serial killer from Canada by an American investigator at a seminar many years ago. It has since then been in my head and was the backdrop when I first was going to write a novel with a serial killer. TThe serial killers we know from the literature are often brightly murderers who commit agonizing murder, collect trophies from their victims and communicating with police through coded messages. Using a real murder hunt as background gave authenticity to the setting for my story.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: Do you often base your books on cases of real murders? Your debut novel, Key Witness, was also inspired by a true murder story, wasn’t it?
Jørn Lier Horst: It is only the first book my that is based on a real case, but all my novels contain elements of true crime. I have worked as an investigator for 20 years. It is a profession that has affected my life, and it is visible in all my books.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: There are nine William Wisting books but “The Caveman”, the ninth in the series, is the first one that has been published in Polish. Do you know anything about plans to translate the others?
Jørn Lier Horst: The Caveman is the latest book of William Wisting, and the ninth in the series. Many of my foreign publishers choose to go late into the series. There is no problem, as each book can be read independently.
When I write books, I like not only to tell what Wisting do with the case, but what the case does to him - how the police work affects him as a person. A lot has happened in Wistings life through the first nine books. It's been almost ten years, his daughter Line has become an adult, he has become a widower, and he has a new girlfriend who has left him. Several of the earlier stories will also be translated into Polish.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: Your second book series, CLUE, is addressed to young readers and you also started crime fiction series for children. Is it easier to write for them than for adults? What gives you more satisfaction?
Jørn Lier Horst: I'm thinking of books for children and young people as a literary rest room. I get the opportunity to do something else. It is necessary for me, before I return to my main project, which is the books about Wisting. I need a little break, but have pleasure in writing for children and young people. The books have become very popular, and to be part of creating a new generation of readers is a powerful feeling for a writer.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: What are you working on now and can you say something more about it?
Jørn Lier Horst: I'm writing a new crime novel about William Wisting to be published in Norway next year*.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: And what kind of books do you like reading? Do you have a favourite author or a book? Have you ever read anything by a Polish author?
Jørn Lier Horst: I read many crime novels, but also other contemporary literature. However, I have no favorite author. Very few Polish writers are translated into Norwegian. I have read some short stories by Stanisław Lem, but I'm afraid I have little knowledge of Polish literature. I have heard many good things about Marek Krajewski and Irek Grin, but none of them have yet been translated to Norwegian.
Katarzyna Chojecka-Jędrasiak: Thank you a lot for the interview.
If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.
* This interview was done in September 2014 so the new books will be probably published this year.