The Short Version: Harry Hole, the only detective in Norway (apparently) to’ve apprehended a serial killer, is targeted – in a way – by the first true serial killer to hit the Nordic streets. But the killer is willing to break his pattern in order to mess with Harry and after heading down several rabbit holes, Harry is at his wits end… and the killer has saved the very best for last, threatening to tear apart Harry’s very soul.
The Review: Before we begin, I’d like to state (for the record) that I’m a little perplexed by the decision for Vintage to start publishing the Harry Hole novels with number 7 instead of number 6. The fine folks at Harper Perennial (who even just re-issued their three paperbacks in order to match the Vintage ones, which is classy as all-get-out) published 3-5… and Vintage is plowing along, having published 7, 8, and with 9 on its way this autumn. But 1, 2, and now 6 are nowhere to be found. Well, you can get 6 in the UK. Hopefully they’ll publish them in the winter or something?
Anyway, I digress. The three Harper novels were somewhat self-contained: they were Hole vs. Waaler and we got quite a satisfying conclusion. But, as with all great heroes, there are other stories to be told. Their lives go on. Hence the continuing adventures of Inspector Hole – and what an adventure this was. With one tiny exception, I’d say that this was easily the best of the Harry Hole novels that I’ve read. That alone puts it hands and head above most mysteries in general, too. It’s a hell of a novel.
What it doesn’t do is cater to new audiences. Sure, there are the obligatory reminder bits (which I really liked – it’s nice to be reminded who Rakel and Oleg and Beate and the rest are, even if you haven’t forgotten) but for the most part, it jumps right in. There’s no reference to Waaler, little reference to Harry’s past other than a few important things that can be signposted, and very little in the way of recapping (for example) Harry and Rakel’s relationship. Beate Lonn only appears for a few brief scenes – and we’re told that Harry has felt strange about talking to her since the death of her partner and that’s that. We don’t get much more than that. Nor do we need it.
Author’s Note: the real problem with not having The Redeemer published in order is that certain things are mentioned in this book that seem to’ve occurred in that novel… like the death of Beate’s partner/fiancé. And just a general sense that there is a gap in our knowledge of our hero. An unnecessary gap, too. But I’m sure it’ll be rectified in time.
Instead, we jump into the case at hand. We see a handful of murders firsthand, we get a couple of delightfully played red herrings, and we get a true serial killer. With a symbol and everything. People are suspicious of Harry and his belief that it’s a series of murders – and although at first I was a bit confused as to why, seeing as he’s been perhaps the best detective on the force, I suddenly had a flash when we’re told that Moller decided to take his own life after being discovered at something by Harry. And then I realized: no one likes the internal affairs staff – but Harry wasn’t even internal affairs. He just found the corruption. That’s why they try to set Harry up to take the fall with one of the red herrings (I won’t say who for sake of spoilers). Because no one likes him, with the exception of his few stalwart friends who can look past the alcoholism and the blatant disrespect for the system, but no one ever says it straight up. It’s there between the lines, underneath the words on the page, and that is the wonder of Nesbø’s writing. He’s created such a wonderful character in Harry Hole that we now know him so well that we can understand how others look at him.
The one little caveat I mentioned earlier is that I could’ve done without the third(?) and final red herring – the one that almost gets Hole sent up the river. It was interesting to see the way things connected but it felt like one step too many. I never quite believed it, if that makes sense. The other red herrings made sense – and I knew there would be at least one more reveal – but beyond that, something about it just didn’t feel right the whole time. I was stunned that Harry fell for it, although (as he rightly points out) he was running on like 36 hours without sleep or something like that. It just felt so off (despite signs pointing otherwise) because of the scene on the island that I never really believed that this person could’ve been The Snowman. I’m edging near spoiler territory now so I suppose I should just leave it be. It was a minor complaint – but a complaint nonetheless.
Rating: 5 out of 5. An excellent novel. The tension in the last 45 pages was not only page-turning, but it sent my heart racing. I was sitting on the couch and suddenly noticed that I was sitting up on the edge of the seat, heart racing, breath audible. It was TENSE and there was no guarantee that things were going to work out for our hero or anyone else involved. It’s an unmitigated pleasure to experience a moment like that in any novel and would be enough to recommend this one to any reader – but it’s Nesbø’s fine work as a creator that doubles my recommendation. Harry’s scenes with the young Jonas and with Oleg are unexpectedly moving and they make the character of Harry Hole even more well-rounded than we found him coming into the novel. It only gets better as Nesbø matures as a writer and I look forward to what comes next – and I look forward to seeing how it all got started. Toowoomba and Australia are being built up: I for one am starting (just vaguely) to get impatient for how it all went down.