Apr 9, 2010


from the Globe and Mail: Books

There are no serial killers in Norway. At least, there are none anyone knows about. That’s one of the many snippets in the complex plot of this mesmerizing novel by Jo Nesbo, the fifth Harry Hole book in English translation.

There are so many good crime novels coming out of Scandinavia these days that it’s almost become a cliché. But Harry Hole is different. Yes, he’s a policeman, just like Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander and Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer. But he’s also difficult, isolated and a natural loner, more akin to Philip Marlowe than Wallander. There is a sense of loss in Hole, and this novel plays it up. He’s an alcoholic who’s stopped drinking, subject to the desperate needs of addiction and the ruthless physical symptoms of the “dry drunk.” His girlfriend, Rakel, has found love and meaning with a new man. She’s planning to marry to move to Africa. His closest friend and mentor is gone, shot dead. What keeps Harry moving from one day to the next is the job. In this case, one missing woman who may be dead.

Nesbo begins this story with a small boy’s terror. The cause? A snowman, turned round, staring into his room, not out toward the world. And that’s the brilliance of Nesbo: He takes the simple and cozy, and transforms it into the terrorizing. The snowman is what binds the deaths of several women, all young, all mothers. Harry, the only policeman in Norway with “experience” dealing with a serial killer (in Australia), uncovers the case and then begins tracking the clues, which lead him in some very strange directions.

I guessed the identity of the killer early, but that didn’t detract from the story at all. I wanted to see just why and how, and what happens to the other people in this story. The characters are marvellous, the plot is tight and the setting perfect – just at the edge of a Norwegian winter – and the concept original. Serial killers may have become ubiquitous in North America, but in Norway, they’re still a novelty.

No comments:

Post a Comment