Harry Hole - Police Crime Detective - Oslo, Norway
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte JAN 6, 2009)
Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø, has enjoyed enormous success with his creation, Harry Hole. A recovering alcoholic, Hole is a successful cop who often doesn’t play by the rules, ruffles many feathers in the department, and who yet has a benevolent boss in Bjarne Moller, head of Oslo’s crime squad division. A few years ago, Harry lost his work partner, Ellen Gjelten, in a shooting that remains unexplained. The ghosts of this tragic death haunt Harry to such an extent that his fight to stay away from the bottle remains unsuccessful. In short, Harry Hole almost reminds one of a romantic, Hollywood version of a successful cop—someone who is fighting his own demons as he rounds up the bad guys.
Nemesis is the latest thriller featuring Harry Hole, to be published in the United States and its tight story telling and breathless pace has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. I vote for George Clooney in the lead role.
Nemesis starts with a bang—literally—and remarkably, it never loses its relentless pace. This alone is an incredible feat for a book that is nearly 500 pages long. At the very outset, an Oslo bank is robbed and the cashier, Stine Grette, is shot dead by the masked perpetrator, because she couldn’t get the cash box open fast enough. Harry Hole is drawn into the case and this time, he has a new teammate—Beate Lonn. Lonn, herself the daughter of a cop who was shot dead in a bank robbery gone wrong, is blessed with a special ability to recognize faces, even from the sketchiest of outlines. As the two start off to look for the criminal in the bank robbery and murder, Hole is inadvertently dragged into yet another crime.
Back in his personal life, Hole has a new girlfriend who, as we are introduced to her, is fighting for the custody of her son, Oleg, in Moscow. During the time she is away, Hole gets a phone message from an ex, asking for a quick meeting—a last reunion before they finally part ways. Hole can’t resist. He meets the ex, Anna Bethsen. The next morning, he wakes up to a horrible headache and can’t remember a single detail from the evening before. What’s worse, Anna Bethsen is found dead in her apartment that same morning. Having found her cradling a revolver, the police are quick to dismiss the case as a suicide but Harry is not convinced. For one thing, Anna, despite being left-handed, is found cradling the weapon in her right hand. A photograph of a handsome (but unrelated) family is also found in one of her shoes. Of course, Hole must conduct his investigations surreptitiously. After all, he himself was, according to eyewitnesses, the last person to see Anna alive. Worse, his cell phone is found in Anna’s apartment, possibly threatening to tie him to the crime in damaging ways. Eventually these damning bits of evidence are traced down by fellow police officer, Tom Waaler, who for long has proven to be a thorn in Hole’s backside.
Who is the bank robber? Why did he kill Stine Grette? Who killed Anna? Are these acts of violence all perpetrated by one and the same person? These are the questions that Hole explores in Nemesis, along with his partner, Beate Lonn. Along the way, Nesbø also gives the reader a glimpse into the gypsy way of life and briefly explores their fractured history in Europe.
The plot spins and moves leading to surprises. There are many times when the reader is led to believe that the crime has been solved only to find that there is one more puzzle thrown in to twist the plot further. While these devices keep the story moving, the many twists and turns get to be annoying after a while and it takes some re-reading at the end to figure out exactly how all the loose ends are tied (a couple are not). Towards the very end, Nesbø even resorts to the timeworn trick of training his sights between two very cinematic suspense scenes, making this part a tad melodramatic. Nevertheless Nemesis makes for a very entertaining read—a perfect way to chase away the winter blues or even to take along to the beach.
A quick note about the translation: Nemesis is translated from the Norwegian. Its fast pace, especially for a translated work is amazing and leads one to believe that the product is totally seamless. Hats off to the translator, Don Bartlett. There is not one sentence that jars.
Finally, even if the story is set in Oslo, readers looking for a fair amount of local color might be disappointed. Nesbø has written the book for the reader who already knows the city fairly well. Any sights or street names are just tossed around without too much placement or descriptions. Nesbø believes in story and plot lines alone. This is not meant as a complaint—the method serves him well in Nemesis.
At one point in Nemesis, a colleague asks Harry Hole why he likes to spend all his spare time chasing ghosts. Towards the end of the book, however, Nesbø leaves open the possibility that Hole will likely tackle these ghosts. He might chase down the person responsible for Ellen Gjelten’s death in a future volume. Hole chasing down and confronting his own nemesis? It’s a tantalizing possibility and something worth looking forward to especially if the book promises to be as entertaining as Jo Nesbø’s Nemesis.
- Amazon readers rating: from 386 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Harry Hole Series:
- The Bat (1997; 2013)
- The Cockroaches (1998; 2014)
- The Redbreast (2000; 2006 in UK; 2007 in US)
- Nemesis (2002; 2008 in UK; January 2009 in US)
- The Devil's Star (2003; 2010 in US)
- The Redeemer (2005; 2009 in UK; not in US)
- The Snowman (2007; 2011 in US)
- The Leopard (2011)
- Phantom (2012)
- Police (October 2013)
- Headhunters (2008)
- The Son (May 2014)
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- Official website for Jo Nesbø
- UK website for Jo Nesbo
- Wikipedia page for Jo Nesbø
- This Writing Life interview with Jo Nesbø
- Material Witness review of The Redbreast
- The Complete Review on The Redbreast
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Devil's Star
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About the Author:
Jo Nesbø was born in 1960 in Oslo and grew up in Molde. Nesbø graduated from the Norwegian School of Economics with a degree in economics. Nesbø worked as a freelance journalist and a stockbroker before he began his writing career.
He became hugely successful with his bestselling crime series featuring Detective Harry Hole. After the success of his first novel, Nesbø devoted his time to writing and to his other passion: music. He is the main vocal and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre.
The Devil’s Star won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel.