The Short Version: A man lies in protective custody in a coma in an Oslo hospital. Police are being killed at the scene of unsolved crimes. The Oslo police department is stretched thin – and without Harry Hole, they might not be able to solve this one…
The Review: Let’s just go ahead and state that some SPOILERS are going to be found in this review. It’s hard to talk about the book, really, without giving away a major one, one that directly relates to the cliffhanger ending of Phantom.
And that is that Harry Hole is alive and well. “Well” as can be, anyway. It’s not him in the hospital in the coma, although Nesbø manages to make you think so for the first nearly-two-hundred pages of the book. And while the bait-and-switch was good, I found it to be a bit of a cop-out as relating to that aforementioned cliffhanger. Sure, I love the idea of Harry giving up his detective life and becoming a professor – but there was just some gleeful snickering on the part of Mr. Nesbø when the rug gets pulled out. The thing is, he pulls the same damn trick at the end of the novel to absolutely magnificent effect – so you can’t be too mad about it. You just have to accept that, well, this one was always going to be a little more ridiculous.
The stakes here are both higher and more personal than they’ve ever been before – but the book only picks up steam once Harry comes back into the action. Strange how a character can give so much unique life to a series; these tales are just standard Nordic crime without Harry. But when he comes back, whether this was Nesbø’s intention or just a side effect, the book springs to life. The wheels of the story catch and all the sudden we’re flying along, as opposed to pushing through the first section. This is not to say that the first section is bad or poorly written – but we know, deep down inside, that we’re just marking time til Harry arrives one way or another. And when he does, we are rewarded.
One of the best things about this series, the thing that (for me) elevates it above even Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular work, is that Harry lives and breathes. He matures. He changes. We spend ten books with him (well, only 9 so far – I haven’t read The Redeemer yet, as this series has been published way out of order, through the infinite wisdom of the folks at Vintage) and over the course of those books we see him change in so many ways. His relationships span multiple books and they are nuanced, changing, human. So to see him now, coming back from a sort of self-imposed retirement and wondering why he has all of the feelings that he does… you feel good inside to’ve watched Harry grow over all these books and all these years.
As for the plot, it’s a doozy. There are several red herrings throughout, all of which are completely valid and when the characters get suckered, you get suckered too. But even when the final reveal comes (which surprised me), you don’t feel as though you’ve been truly deceived – the case was just that complex and complicated. It all, of course, comes back to things that you might’ve been able to put together if you’d been one step smarter than our team – but the Boiler Room team is smarter than most readers, so you can’t be upset if you missed the turn too. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is Nesbø’s decision to leave a few threads of this book unresolved. There’s one particular thread, one full of a looming creepy dread, that pops back up at the end (just as you’re thinking “hey, good, we got the guy, it’s all sorted”) that I was stunned to see him leave so wide open – especially considering the fact that, this time, he gives Harry a proper stopping point.
But do I think this is really the end for our intrepid hero? I do not. It may be some time yet – but I think Harry will be back. He’s too interesting to leave alone for too long.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I loved the back half of the novel but the first half, with Harry out of commission, was just a little too unmoored. Nesbø sets up plenty of dominoes and he’s doing what he does best with setting the scene right from the get-go, but the star player is on the bench and that hurts your final effort until he gets out on the field. You spend the first 200 or so pages with this building sense of needing something to happen – a very particular thing. It’s only once it does that you allow yourself to slip into the rush of the novel and enjoy it for what it is: a fitting punctuation mark to an absolutely exemplary series. I’m just happy, dare I say it, that book 6 was only just published in paperback – it means I have one more chance to go see Harry in action. For who knows when or if we’ll see him again.