The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo: Diamonds aren’t a Girls Best Friend

Inspector Harry Hole is back and this time he is after a serial killer who has a penchant for diamonds and a flair for theatrical murder scene staging. Harry is still trying to get enough evidence to bring his colleague Tom Waaler to justice for the murder of Harry’s old partner Ellen.

Rakel, Harry’s girlfriend is still on the periphery and Harry’s battle with booze is still just as difficult as ever.

Nesbo writes a mean crime thriller. With Harry Hole, we have a hero most flawed; not only self-destructive but harmful to those who care about him most. Harry’s biggest inner demon is not his constant craving for alcohol, but his addiction to crime itself. The allure of the murder scene with its puzzles, clues, and questions left unasked.

Tom Waaler, who has been present in the Harry Hole series for a while now, is a thoroughly unpleasant character. Overbearing and sadistic, he is also a “dirty cop” who has more secrets than he can keep control of. And that is what Waaler does best, control things. His sideline business of smuggling and knowing where all the skeletons are buried make him an appropriate challenge for Harry.

While Harry is busy confronting Waaler, they are forced to team up on a series of murders in Oslo. Each victim has been found with a star-shaped diamond piece of jewellery on their body and Harry soon breaks “the code” that the killer has left at each crime scene. The killer appears to be a bike courier who has a bad habit of cutting off pieces of the victim’s body and then leaving them as clues.

While Harry gets ever closer to finding out who the killer is, Waaler continues to entice and threaten Harry into either joining him in his extra-curricular activities or pay the consequences. Even going so far as to threaten Harry’s friends and endanger Rakel and Oleg.

While not as international as the other books in the Harry Hole series, the only external locations from Oslo are Prague and Switzerland, the action is just as fast paced and the puzzles just as good. There are the usual red herrings and misdirection for the reader and Harry to follow and discard.

My one bone of contention, if it can be called that, was that I guess very early on in the book where one of the “missing” bodies was going to be hidden and I cannot say how disappointed I was when proved right. Still, that was the only thing I guessed correctly out of the entire book.

Nesbo has brought so much life to Inspector Harry Hole and the world he inhabits that all of them seem like real living breathing people. If Harry doesn’t succumb to all the cigarettes that he chain smokes, he will continue to solve crimes for a long, if not tortured, time.

As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the books out-of-order. It would probably be a good idea for the new reader to follow the books in order. I don’t mind knowing that certain characters will not be around later or that Harry will change partners for one reason or another, but other folks might just be put off.

By all means if you want to just read one of the books, it does not matter if you’ve read any others in the series. Each book can be read as a stand-alone story. Nesbo writes each one with enough background information that no questions are raised that interferes with the plotline.

I am sure that one day soon, Nesbo will stop being touted as the “next Stieg Larsson” and get credit for the talent that he so inherently shows with each new book.

The Devil’s Star is a 4 ½ out of 5 stars only because I guessed where the body was going to turn up.

Author Jo Nesbo.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo: Multiple Murder…

Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis is a compulsive read. Like his other Harry Hole books it weaves a web of lies, subterfuge and murder. In this book, several murders and Harry is still after the killer who dispatched his old investigative partner Ellen.

The book starts with a bank robbery. We have a front row seat for the robbery itself and its murderous conclusion. Harry is attached to the robbery branch where he meets Beate Lonn a new officer who has a photographic memory for faces.

When the Oslo police department decide that the robbery is really a murder inquiry, Harry teams up with Beate to track the “bank robber” down.

In the meantime Harry’s love interest is in Moscow with her son Oleg fighting for custody with Oleg’s birth father. An old flame of Harry’s has apparently committed suicide and he realises that she was murdered.

Harry links up with Norway’s most prolific bank robber, a gypsy named Raskol, who is in fact the uncle of his old love. While the two men spar for information to both Anna’s (Harry’s past lover and Raskol’s neice) murder and the identity of the bank robber who killed a teller, the body count rises in this neatly constructed story.

Added to this already volatile mix is a colleague of Harry’s who is conspiring to have him framed for the murder of his old lover.

Nemesis is a typical Inspector Harry Hole novel. He is still a victim of his excesses, struggling with his alcoholism and his migraine headaches. He still operates “outside-the-box” while chasing suspects and in this book he has been given free rein to act as he sees fit.

As with all of Nesbo’s books, he paints a vivid picture of his characters and we are privy to their foibles and inner demons. His cast is multi-national as usual and we travel with Harry and Beate to another exotic “hot spot” where they are chasing one of the suspects.

Nesbo’s Norway is dark and occupied by a fatal combination of repressed people and their complete opposite, Dionysian villains. But this dark world is not divided equally into a black and white world. The lines between the two types of people converge and blur, so that a lot of grey areas dominate the scenes.

I have mentioned in the past that I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Herr Nesbo’s books. Hopefully publishers will tire of calling him the “next” or “new” Stieg Larrsson – a descriptive title given to any halfway decent writer of Scandinavian origin. I enjoy his books so much that I am in the slow and irritating process of reading all his English translated books.

Slow, because due to financial constraints I have to reserve books at the local library for perusal and irritating because I want to read them all, in order and now.

This is another brilliantly paced and delightfully confusing trail for all armchair detectives to follow. Of course we do not have the burning need to catch the bad guys like Harry Hole does, but, we love the journey of discovery after discovery as each onion-like layer is stripped away. Despite the fact that I am not reading the books in order – something that tinges each story with a sort of sadness for the later Harry – each story stands on its own and doesn’t have to be read in any particular order.

My final verdict is that you should add this to your list of must-reads. A cracking 5 star gem of a book. Thanks Jo Nesbo for entertaining us so thoroughly.

Jo Nesbo

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo: A Killer Interview…

As you can see from the front of the book Headhunters will soon be a “MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” although technically it already is. Released in 2011 from Norway the film opened to positive reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. I am surprised that a Hollywood motion picture studio has not already given Headhunters the “Hollywood remake treatment.” Hollywood was certainly quick enough to re-make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Headhunters is a relatively short book, almost a novella, at only 265 pages. But in this “short” novel Jo Nesbo manages to pack one hell of a great sucker punch for the reader lucky enough to have stumbled upon his book.

I became a Nesbo fan after coming across a blurb talking about his latest Harry Hole thriller. The name was enough to make me curious and I read the Hole book (sorry about the pun) and fell in love with not only his protagonist, but the writer as well. Although Headhunters does not feature Harry nor is it part of the series, Nesbo displays the same crisp narrative as he does for his serial killer hunter.

Headhunters starts with introducing us to Roger Brown, he’s an exclusive (top of the heap, he says) recruiting specialist aka a headhunter. He’s the best at what he does and is well compensated for his efforts. He uses a 7 point FBI interrogation model as his interview template and he is ruthless in his search for the right candidate.

Brown also suffers from what a friend of mine amusingly refers to as “short man’s attitude.” In other words his lack of height makes him a bit egotistical and aggressive. He also highly values his own capabilities as a recruiter, husband, and thief.

It turns out that Roger has a pretty opulent lifestyle, one which he supplants with art theft from his potential candidates. Using the interview as a distraction and a means to discover what valuable art the interviewees own, he then steals them with the aid of his criminal partner.

One candidate, Clas Greve (a high flyer in the world of GPS manufacture and an ex-mercenary) has a priceless painting by Paul Rueben and here is where the story takes off. It changes from the Napoleon-esque ramblings of egocentric Roger Brown and becomes a fight for survival.

The opening salvo from Nesbo is a scene where Roger is in a crashed car surrounded by dead bodies and Roger is extolling his thoughts on car crashes and the resultant mayhem caused by them. He finishes his thoughts with the explanation that he is a murderer and that his time is short. He then goes on to relay his story to us via the first person narrative which works very well for the book.

Nesbo is brilliant at setting up stories that move quickly and efficiently throughout. His pacing is electric and his characters stand out. He is also not averse to pulling the metaphorical wool over the eyes of his readers. Roger goes through a character arc that explains a lot about who he is and how he became the man he is now and will soon be.

Clas is a truly scary man who, as an ex-mercenary, is more than capable of tracking down and killing his prey. Both Clas and Roger are predators of a dissimilar nature, but as the story evolves they merge to become the same type of killing machine.

My only disappointment with the book was that at 265 pages it was too short a read. Still entertaining and so fast paced it left me breathless, but, damn it could have been a little longer.

I will now have to watch the Norwegian film that was based on the book. Although, according to Wikipedia at any rate, the film does deviate somewhat from the novel. If ever a book had been written that screamed to be made into a film, Headhunters is that book.

I would definitely give the book a full five out of five stars. Full of fascinating characters and, once the books shifts into fifth gear midway, grips you fiercely until the end. Headhunters is just another winning “Scandi-crime” thriller from author Jo Nesbo.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo…Another Nordic Novelist

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tumblr_lv2bbjfwPa1qi7d6lo1_400 (Photo credit: BeingGossip)

Despite being number 7 in the Harry Hole series, it didn’t feel like I needed to have read the first 6 books in the series to understand Harry or how he worked. The Snowman was a gripping story and it had enough threads and veins of deception and criminal intent to keep the book more than interesting.

The book opens with the reader being privy to a wife and mother who is so enamoured of her lover’s skill between the sheets that she visits him leaving her 11 year old boy in the car. It is winter. Snow is on the ground and as her lover is nearing his climax he looks out the window and sees a snowman looking in.

Mom goes back to the car and chats with her son who tells her, “I saw him.”

Mom panics and asks, “Who?”

“The snowman,” he answers.

End of the first chapter and we’ve already been given a clue that this book is going to be good.

Years later a young boy’s mother goes missing and a snowman outside their house is now wearing Mom’s scarf. The present day murders are just beginning.

Jo Nesbo is another of the recently “discovered” Nordic authors that are being translated into English since the world found the late Stieg Larsson and his Millenium trilogy. Like Larsson, Nesbo writes about the crime arena and follows the main protagonist whilst they struggle to find the killer.

Of course the main difference is that Nesbo’s protagonist is an Inspector with the Norwegian (Oslo) police department who had training with the FBI on serial killers and since he’s caught one is the resident expert on the force. The fact that he is always on the look out for serial killers does cause some friction within the police force and with his colleagues. Larsson’s dynamic duo were a reporter and a social inept with incredible computer skills.

The one thread that runs through the entire book is infidelity,or promiscuity, and the results of both in terms of pregnancy and affects on relationships. There are other various threads that stem from the promiscuity vein, guilt, suspicion, secrecy and the fear of being caught out.

There was not one character in the book that I did not feel some kinship to. Even the murderer and the vast majority of other suspects were rounded characters that if you could not empathise with, you could at least understand.

Hole himself is fascinating and a protagonist that you can really get behind. Nesbo has come up with hero that is a real as you or I. He appears to be addicted to the chase and capture of the criminal. He is also still in love with his ex Rakel, despite the fact that she has “moved on” and is going to be moving in with a new partner.

In Harry’s investigations he will uncover facts and suspicions that will touch everyone who is on the crime team, including himself and his family.

Nesbo weaves a web of such complexity that it could be easy to lose track of where all the strands of the investigation are going. But everything is wrapped up with an enviable dexterity by the author  every bit as dexterous as  his hero’s chasing down of the killer.

There are enough false starts and confusing clues to keep the reader second guessing, although I will confess that I’d worked out Harry’s mysterious colleague’s secret just before he did (but only just).

The book moves at a breakneck speed from start to finish and I cursed every time I had put the book down for any reason. I read the 500 words plus book in two days and felt as though I had been on every step of the investigation with Harry and his small team.

Great book, great writer and another example of the surge of “Nordic authors” that have invaded the crime novel genre.  Author Jo Nesbo has another stalwart fan and I’m now off to find the other 6 books in the Harry Hole series and anything else by Herr Nesbo.

I don’t, as a rule, use a star system. But I will give The Snowman a “5 snowmen out of 5” for pace, plot and police investigation.

Read it, you won’t regret it.