• The international cast of ‘Wisting’. (SBS)
When an American serial killer turns up in Norway, it’s a crime-solving culture clash as both countries put their best cops on a case that’s cold in more ways than one.
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18 Oct 2019 - 10:23 AM  UPDATED 18 Oct 2019 - 10:23 AM

Wisting begins with a dead body found under a Christmas tree. Well, not exactly a Christmas tree – there’s no tinsel in sight. But it is a spruce tree, and Christmas is approaching… not that it’s going to be particularly jolly for the people charged with finding the dead man’s killer.

Heading up the investigation is William Wisting (Sven Nordin). He’s a smart, dedicated cop, but – unexpectedly for the genre – he’s not driven by the demons of a dark past. In fact, he’s actually a pretty likable guy. He’s not all smiles and good times, though. His wife recently died and he’s been throwing himself into his work a little too much. Which is why he’s just about to take some health-related me time at a local spa when he’s called in.

This first season of Wisting adapts two of Jørn Lier Horst’s popular crime novels, The Hunting Dogs and The Caveman (they’re actually the eighth and ninth in the Wisting series). You might remember star Nordin from Valkyrien, which screened on SBS a few years back. He’s been in a wide range of series, but this his first role as a TV detective, and with his magnetic yet subtle performance, it turns out he’s a natural at it.

The first big clue in Wisting’s investigation is that clothes on the corpse suggest he’s American. The second comes when a fingerprint found on the body turns up a match – trouble is, it’s with an American serial killer who hasn’t been heard from since he vanished in the US years ago.

Enter the FBI, as two agents arrive to “assist and observe” with the case. Twenty years ago killer Robert Godwin got away, and the FBI isn’t going to let that happen again. For the senior officer, Maggie Griffin (Carrie-Anne Moss of The Matrix fame) it’s personal. This is her chance to finally wrap up a case that’s haunted her for her entire career. Special Agent John Bantham (British actor Richie Campbell) is her dependable back-up.

The FBI might be deadly serious, but seeing these two against a traditional Scandi-noir backdrop – the town of Larvik features plenty of gloriously snowy forests and fields – where they butt up against a very different Nordic way of doing things, provides some nice moments of light against the darkness of the crimes they’re there to solve.

Unfortunately, the local cops aren’t quite as personally driven, most notably detective Nils Hammer (Mads Ousdal); he’s openly hostile to Griffin (there’s an early altercation when she asks why the Norwegian cops don’t carry guns), and the friction between them only gets worse.

The clash between big-city cops and low-key locals is given a smart spin here, as both sides are basically on equal footing (despite what Hammer thinks). The culture clash provides a nice touch of friction without slowing the story down – as do Wisting’s problems holding his family together after the death of his wife. Although, those problems seem largely of his own making, as his (self-inflicted) workload means he’s not always able to make their planned get-togethers.

One of his children is Line Wisting (Thea Green Lundberg), a journalist back in town from Oslo. She’s here to write a story about a neighbour of her father’s who died in his lounge chair at home and wasn’t discovered for months. Her angle is that his death provides an insight into the loneliness that underlies Norwegian society, but it doesn’t take her long to suspect that perhaps her story just might involve foul play.

It’s no surprise that the father and daughter investigations soon begin to connect – though at first they’re more competing than overlapping, in part because Line is determined to uncover the truth, and in part because she’s annoyed her father won’t share sensitive police information with her. But when you’re investigating a killer who’s still on the loose, looking for the truth can put you (and those around you) in a lot of danger.

All of this is just in the first five episodes; the second half of this ten-part series moves onto a whole new crime as it adapts a new novel. Hailed as a hero for his part in the Godwin case, Wisting is suddenly accused of fraud regarding the evidence in an earlier case – an accusation that threatens to derail his entire career. As the man who was wrongfully convicted goes free, a young woman goes missing. And Wisting? He’s suspended, a man alone.

While all this is happening, Line’s hoping her latest report on a recent murder will help take Wisting off the front page. But as her father goes back over his now tainted investigation trying to find out what really happened, she begins to uncover links between her story and her father’s increasingly desperate attempts to prove his own innocence.

There’s one thing that’s consistent across both stories: for Wisting, his job has become his life. The question now is, is there any line he won’t cross to keep it?

Catch Wisting from Thursday, 17 October at SBS On Demand.

Follow the author here: @morrbeat

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