The Short Version: Months after the death of his partner at the end of The Redbreast, Detective Harry Hole is back. A string of bank robberies begin in Oslo and Harry’s trying to figure out what happened the night he went over to see an old flame – who ends up dead that very night. He’s got a new partner – of sorts – and that bastard Waaler breathing down his neck. A drink might not be so bad, then…
The Review: There are few things I enjoy more than a well-constructed crime novel. I’m not talking about the manufactured trash of airport novel crime – I mean Tana French, Steig Larsson, and – yes – Jo Nesbo. Harkening back to the glory days of Poe’s Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Holmes, these are authors who create characters that become part of the consciouness. Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad is richly imagined, I don’t need to rave any further about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist – and Harry Hole is as deserving of inclusion as anyone.
I’m not sure that I liked this book better than The Redbreast – I thought that the reveals went on a little long at the end of Nemesis and that there seemed to be a few too many wrong-turn denouements. Also, Hole’s trip to Brazil seemed a little… well, unnecessary. I understand that the first two books in the series (yet to be published here in the States) have Hole in Thailand and Australia, so Nesbo’s faithful Nordic readers must’ve been itching for more adventure when Hole didn’t leave Norway during The Redbreast. The villainy, though, was acceptably complicated. That is, as much as the multiple “oh, wait, it ISN’T over!” moments grew tiresome, the actual reveals never did. Breathless anticipation, high stakes at each turn, and that very real feeling of being wrong that so rarely afflicts our favorite detectives. Sure, they get things wrong… but quickly get them right and are smug in that feeling of rightness. Not so with Hole. There are times when the entire enterprise seems to be out of Harry’s control and he’s simply trying – and failing – to keep up. There’s a bit of anti-hero mentality about this hero and that’s what makes him fun to be with.
Hole’s new female sparring partner in the police force, Beate Lonn, is perhaps the best addition to come from this book. Hole is obviously still reeling from Ellen’s death – at the hands of that bastard Waaler, who is increasingly disgusting as the series continues – and introducing a new female partner on the force who he is trying to befriend… it just works. The scene where he tries to get Beate – a no-nonsense, shy girl with an overly developed facial recognition center in her brain (sounds far-fetched but it really isn’t – it’s very much this touch of an Aspberger’s/austism-esque affliction that makes Beate even more realistic) – to run through the question-game that he and Ellen used to play… it was funny and sad and frustrating all at the same time.
Rating: 4 out of 5. There wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about this book, except that it stands above a good 90% of its competition in the mystery section. It was just really damn good. I will say that I hope the conflict between Waaler and Hole comes to a head in the next book – I found myself a little frustrated that Harry hasn’t been able to finally make that one conclusive link or that Waaler hasn’t made that one tiny slip. Of course, that’s perhaps a testament to Nesbo’s writing – it feels real enough that I’m betrayed by the bad guy continuing to get away with doing bad things.