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.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo…Another Nordic Novelist

tumblr_lv2bbjfwPa1qi7d6lo1_400
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.

Scandi-Crime?

English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton
English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was wandering through the local Waterstones this morning to see what new books might be on-sale or worth paying that extra ‘bob’ or two for if not on-sale. I was really killing time while I waited for my business appointment time of two o’clock.

I took the escalator upstairs and after browsing through my favorite sections of the entertainment industry and biographical sections I moved onto the fictional crime section.

I noticed an entire display dedicated to Scandi-crime. I stopped for a moment to ponder this newly created genre. I have done the odd book review for Scandinavian crime novels aka mystery novels as I’ve enjoyed the ones I read. I was surprised to see that the apparent popularity of these previously undiscovered authors had spawned their own sub-genre.

When the literary world outside of Scandinavia discovered the late Stieg Larsson and his Millenium Trilogy two things happened almost simultaneously. The first was the public’s delight in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stories and the second was the presence of other Scandinavian writers.

Stieg Larsson’s popularity has opened the floodgates for other equally talented writers who only needed to be translated to English for the literary pundits to get excited about. I’ve read Hans Koppel and Thomas Enger, but both books by these talented men are obviously just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

On the dedicated display table in Waterstones I found out there were more presumably talented Scandinavian writers who had plenty of books for perusal.  Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, Karin Alvtegen, and Karin Fossum were the authors on display.

English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festi...
English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festival in Bremen 2009 Deutsch: Håkan Nesser bei der Veranstaltung “Crime Time Prime Time” in Bremen im September 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of signage had been set up for Nesbo’s The Bat. The display that was just in front of the downstairs main cash register proudly proclaimed that this was the first time that the Harry Hole novel had been available to the English-speaking and reading world. Over 14 million copies of the book have already been sold.

In fact Jo Nesbo alone has eight books on offer at the moment. This includes the “first ever” Harry Hole book of The Bat. If you continue down the Waterstones webpage of Scandi-crime novels on offer you’ll see a ‘shed-load’ of books on offer. All of them written by Scandinavian authors.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I was gutted when I finished reading the last of the Millenium books only to find that Stieg Larsson had died and that he would not be writing any further books. I was also sad that this obviously talented man had died far too early. The blow was softened a bit by my accidental discovery of two more Scandinavian writers who were also very entertaining.

Now thanks to a chance encounter with a display table in my local Waterstones, I’ve discovered even more. I will admit to having a schoolboy giggle at the sign for Jo Nesbo’s book The Bat. The large placard touted the fact that this was the first ever Harry Hole book. I did have quite a few immature thoughts about ‘a Harry Hole’, ‘the Harry Hole’, and even about ‘how Harry the Hole was.’

Luckily for me, I was on my own. This prevented me from vocalizing the above thought pattern. So apart from me giggling uncontrollably for at least a full minute, nobody had a clue as to why. My daughter has threatened to pretend that she doesn’t know me when we go shopping. Besides my annoying habit of automatically seeing the rude side to items on display in shops, I also cannot control myself over the Christmas sales months.

Every toy or musical/mechanical/automated device on display that has a “push me” or “try me” button on it will be pushed or tried by myself. The end result is a cacophony of barking dogs, Christmas songs, singing Santa’s, et al all going off at once. Small children glare at me and mothers look disapprovingly at me while I scamper about pushing all the buttons. My daughter has learned to move away from me when we go into stores at this time of year.

Sorry, I’ve digressed quite a bit here. Back on topic!

These ‘new’ authors are on my ‘to read’ list. I will be looking up Harry Hole’s (sorry) first adventure as soon as I’ve finished reading Michael Grant’s Gone series. It looks to me like Scandinavia has a few more exports than just furniture and trees.

Finally I have to be fair to Jo Nesbo’s character Harry Hole, I’m sure he loses something in translation.