Phantom by Jo Nesbo: Harry’s Hat Trick

Phantom by Jo Nesbo is his latest Harry Hole book in the series. It is quite easily the most intricate of all the Hole novels to date. Impressive in its length and even more impressive in scope; Harry has more plates spinning than a circus clown.

Harry is back in Oslo from Hong Kong where he has sobered up, straightened out and is working as a debt collector. He is fit, tan and wearing a new suit. Despite this “moneyed” appearance however, it’s the same old Harry. Still sporting the Frankenstein scar on the side of his face from his last life or death scenario and only marginally in charge of his old inner demons.

He has come to Oslo for a very personal reason. Oleg, his ex-lover’s son, is on remand for murder. It appears that on top of growing a metre and a bit in the height department, Oleg has been sampling a new drug. Called violin it is more addictive than heroin and less likely to cause an over dose. His choice of drug and friends has put him in a bad position and Harry has come to prove Oleg innocent.

We meet a dying drug addict at the beginning of the book. He has the misfortune to be blocking a mother rat’s access to her nest and young. As this young man lies dying, he relives his short life in his mind. We learn that his name is Gusto and that he looks an awful lot like Elvis, not the spitting image, but he has the same charisma and effect on people. It leads him into the interesting life of a thief and drug addict/pusher.

It is this young man who Oleg is accused of shooting and killing. Harry goes to see his old boss and asks for his job back. Harry is told that this is an “open and shut” case. He is not to investigate it and if he wants to return to the police force in Oslo, he will have to try some place else. Harry decides to investigate anyway.

He learns of Oslo’s leading drug lord a man known as Dubai. He is also known as a phantom, because no one has ever seen him; no one that is, who lives to tell the tale. Harry promises Rakel that he will clear Oleg of the charges and find who the real killer is.

He also learns that Dubai has put all the other drugs pushers out of business with the help of the Oslo police and that the new drug violin is manmade and does not require the usual opiate base that has to be smuggled in. In fact, violin is being smuggled out of the country to the very place where the poppies grow.

He approaches the last of his dwindling number of friends for information and approaches his  old nemesis, Mikael Bellman and his thuggish toady for the same reason. He also meets an old man called Cato who, among other things, masquerades as a priest.

While following the clues that will clear up who really shot Gusto, Harry will learn of lost innocence and a young romance gone sour. He will discover that corruption in Oslo reaches very high in the police bureau and he will also learn just how far he will go to protect a loved one. He will also eventually meet his criminal doppelgänger; a doppelgänger that does not look like Harry but is his evil equivalent.

Number 8 in the series, Phantom weaves a web that ebbs and flows, constantly changing the faces and postions of the players trapped in it. As per usual, Harry is in a race against time and someone wants him stopped…dead.

I cannot praise this book enough and I have to literally hold myself back from revealing too much about the plot and the book’s players. This is easily a 5 star book that I could not put down till I finished it. Do yourself a favour and read it!

Author Jo Nesbo.

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

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo: Has Harry Gone Down the Hole?

In what is apparently the eighth instalment of the Harry Hole series, Harry is in Hong Kong. He’s smoking opium and owes the Triad a great deal of money. Kaja Solness has travelled to Hong Kong on a mission to find Harry and bring him back to Oslo. They have a serial killer; a brutal, savage and bloody serial killer and they need Harry’s help to stop him. But is Harry Hole in any shape to return? More importantly, does he want to return?

When we left Harry at the end of The Snowman, he was an emotional wreck. The toll of catching the Snowman was a harsh and personal one. Harry has gone underground in Hong Kong to stop thinking about everything.

Jo Nesbo has done his research well on the hunting of serial killers. He has obviously studied the current and past experts who worked with the FBI to catch, among others, The Green River Killer and Ted Bundy.

The toll in real life is horrible. FBI Profiler John Douglas, who helped police catch Gary Ridgeway (the green river killer) and Wayne Williams (Augusta Georgia child murders) and more, had a real life breakdown from the stresses of having the ability to “put himself” in the minds of his suspects. He has written about his experiences. His first book, Mindhunter (1995) and his second, Into the Darkness (1997) explained how he worked and the toll it took on him. Although he didn’t realise how much of a toll until the stress affected his health.

Douglas has been portrayed in fiction several times because of his high profile. I don’t think that Nesbo’s Harry Hole is necessarily Douglas in Norwegian clothing. But he has done his research well enough to build Harry as a real person who suffers horribly for his innate talent. He also suffers from guilt; guilt over his family and for the fellow police officers who have died while working with him.

In The Leopard, two women have been murdered. They have nothing in common apart from their gender and the fact that both died from drowning on their own blood.

Harry’s old boss Gunnar Hagen is desperate for Harry to solve the murders. The reason for this desperation becomes clear when Harry meets Mikael Bellman the head of Kripos, a new crime division that Bellman wants to make into Norway’s Scotland Yard. Bellman’s “empire building” is brutal and single minded. Hagen wants to solve the case so the Ministry of Justice doesn’t make Bellman the “Napoleon” of Kripos.

As more bodies turn up and more victims are brutally murdered, it becomes a race against time, Bellman and his Kripos team and the mole that Harry appears to have on his team. And of course the killer.

Meanwhile, time is running out for Harry’s father Olav who is dying in the hospital from cancer. Harry is also still fighting all his old demons as an alcoholic and he is now smoking illegally smuggled opium as well.

As the battle for catching the murderer changes sides and targets, Harry turns to Katrine Bratt (whom he worked with in The Snowman and [SPOILER] who also had a nervous breakdown near the end of that book) to help him on the case by using the old military search engines to find information about suspects and victims on the internet.

In this book everything appears to be at stake, Harry’s father’s life, Harry’s sanity and his love/hate affair with the Crime Office which is in danger of being made redundant by Bellman and his pet project of Kripos.

The Leopard has a very international feel to it. Hong Kong, the Congo and Australia all figure into the plot. As Harry, Bellman and Harry’s team continue to peel away layers that will reveal who the killer is, Harry’s boss Hagen is searching for ammunition to use against Mikael Bellman to keep him from taking over his job.

Jo Nesbo has outshone himself in this book. Death, drugs, alcohol, stress, doubt and guilt all play a huge part in this novel. The final race to catch the killer will have you on the edge of your seat with tension.

One hell of a great read!

Jo Nesbo, Norwegian Maestro.

 

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.