The Short Version: Harry Hole, after the disastrous fallout from his battle against The Snowman, has disappeared into the opium haze of Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions. But the hint of another serial killer in Oslo pulls him back – and this time, Harry might not be ready for what he’s returning to. Faced with inter-office politics, a dying father, and a barely controlled substance abuse problem, it’s all he can do to keep up with the investigation – and even then, the killer has several more surprises up his sleeve…
The Review: This most recent (paperback) iteration of the Harry Hole series has a split personality, of sorts. On one hand, it is the most developed and intense of the novels so far – layered with complexities and twists that just. keep. coming. This would, superficially, make it the “best” thus far, in terms of overall intellectual quality. But on the other hand, it feels at times like it was a little overdone. Like there were too many twists and complexities. Too many red herrings.
I think the issue is, simply, that the killer seemed to be too many steps ahead of Harry the whole time. The whole thing seemed a little too convoluted – a little too good to be true. The various connections were so complex that they slightly strain plausibility. And I felt like it was all in the pursuit of putting Harry in a worse position than we saw him in at the end of The Snowman. Nesbø trying to one-up himself, essentially. It makes the last hundred or so pages a bit more of a slog than they needed to be. I think we would’ve all been quite content to see the wrap-up happen as Harry thinks it does and to let this case be… not simple, not without scars, but I thought it almost sadistic the way Nesbø pushed Harry further. Perhaps it was all in the (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS)
service of sending Harry back to Hong Kong at the end of the novel. Pushing him so far that he has, truly, no choice but to run away again. I felt that way about Rakel’s brief reappearance as well. Although, now, as I talk about it I realize that perhaps this is pursuing a larger goal: another trilogy, of sorts. Where Harry dealt with the fallout from The Redbreast (a nice throwback here, with the gun) and that bastard Tom Waaler for two further books, perhaps this is a trilogy stemming from The Snowman through the upcoming Phantom. This time, it’s about Harry’s personal demons – a more psychologically (although perhaps less immediately active) engaging through-line, to be sure.
But I will say this: Harry’s dogged perseverance in leaving… it’s admirable. We don’t have heroes like that anymore, in fiction or in reality. I know he’ll be called back again – and that there are still three unpublished US translations from his earlier days (hey, Vintage/Black Lizard. GET ON THAT. Much appreciated.) – but in the meantime, one must imagine Harry Hole happy.
As for the central crime, it’s got some lovely callbacks to classic crime – a snowy cabin where all the victims spent the night, an antique and strange murder weapon… there’s more than a little Agatha Christie here in my mind. And even a little James Bond, with Harry flying to the Congo to chase down a lead. The deities of the “mystery” genres are all here in spirit – but for some reason it all feels (I say again) a bit overstuffed.
Rating: 4 out of 5. I don’t actually have that much more to say, oddly enough. It’s still an excellently written novel, with pages that practically get ripped out by the speed with which you will turn them. And Harry is such a genuinely likable rogue that you can’t help but be won over by… what is it Rakel calls it? “His boyish charm”? But there’s something about this book that just doesn’t quite do it for me in the same way that the earlier novels did. Perhaps it was the somewhat padded length – perhaps it was just a little undercooked. But I look forward to getting the rest of the backstory on our dear Mr. Hole – as well as seeing where his crooked path leads next.