Review: Jo Nesbo – Police

PoliceI only keep a watching eye on the internet search terms that bring readers to my blog. However I couldn’t help noticing the amount of traffic that came to my review of Jo Nesbo’s Phantom with the question ‘Is Harry Hole dead?’ Phantom ended with Hole lying bleeding to death on the floor in a drug addict’s apartment. It looked like it was the end for the detective and would have provided a fitting finale for the series. However, Hole is back in Police with the promise of a new direction for future books.

A serial killer is murdering police by luring them to the scenes of their unsolved crimes. The Oslo police force, led by Mikael Bellman, are coming under increasing political pressure to solve the case but the killer leaves no DNA traces at the scene and is able to entice his victims with apparent ease to their deaths. In desperation the investigating team turn to Harry Hole, sober once more and teaching at a university. Although initially refusing to take on the case, the death of a close former colleague draws him into the path of the serial killer.

Police is a huge book, around 500 pages long, but it contains much that is enjoyable about Nesbo. It provides a taut and edgy mystery with return of some characters from earlier books such as forensics expert Beate Lonne and psychologist Stale Aune. Nesbo has previously said that he could have finished his series with this which is his tenth book. And in many respects Police has a fin-de-sciecle feel to it with the resolution of a number of strands of earlier novels. But, as we would expect from Nesbo, the book has an edge to it. There is more explicit sex in Police than previous books and although the violence is toned down slightly there is a shocking murder half way through the narrative. Nesbo is excellent at making the murders appear both realistic and slightly fantastic and things are no different here.

Hole is sober throughout and I actually prefer the alcohol free character with his ever-present demons. He doesn’t appear until at least half way through the story and its testament to the power of the character that the story doesn’t seem to get going properly until Hole’s appearance. There’s a fairly irritating plot strand early on involving an obsessive student. On one hand it seems entirely in keeping with Hole’s character that he is attractive to his female students but is brusque in his refusal sleep with the girl. However the whole scenario had an element of male fantasy about it and the girl appears both vulnerable and psychotic.

It’s difficult to see how the series will develop with a newly sober and settled Harry. There are hints at demons that refuse to disappear which may be a clue to future books. Nesbo is now at that difficult stage with a series that is about to enter its ‘teens’. Fingers crossed that he manages to keep up the quality.

Review: Jo Nesbo – Phantom

Jo Nesbo led the charge of Scandinavian noir in the UK when The Devil’s Star was published in 2005. It introduced the inimitable Harry Hole and Nesbo’s unique take on the darker forces of Norwegian crime. Following its success the books were then translated more or less in order, starting with The Redbreast. More recently the standalone, Headhunters, was published which I found disappointing so I was looking forward to the return of the alcohol ravaged Harry Hole and his dysfunctional approach to policing.

I’ve always enjoyed Nesbo’s books but what I found when I came to reading Phantom was that I couldn’t remember where we had left Harry Hole the detective. Nesbo’s books are weighty thrillers with complex plots and, perhaps because the very early books haven’t yet been translated, there is a sense of dislocation when it comes piecing together Harry’s life. This book was similarly complex, but I found some of the plot themes of previous books coming together.

Harry Hole returns from exile in Hong Kong to help exonerate Oleg, the son of his former girlfriend Rakel, from a murder charge. Oleg has become mixed up in the dealing of a new drug on Oslo’s streets. Named ‘violin’, it is a synthetically manufactured opiate with devastating effects. When the drug’s main dealer Gusto is found murdered, DNA evidence implicates his closest friend Oleg. By returning home to face old and new adversaries, Harry also has to reflect on his shortcomings as a father figure to Oleg as he was growing up.

The book’s central theme is drugs – the damage inflicted by the substances themselves and by the dealers, pushers and gangs that operate openly in Oslo’s seedier districts. The descriptions of that life are detailed and convincing and Nesbo cleverly shows that although faces and the nature of the substance may change, the way of life remains constant. Even a sub-plot involving a drug smuggling airline pilot is effective in showing the human face of the drug industry. The creation of ‘violin’, a new generation of drug was well thought out as was the development of a character known only as ‘Mr Dubai’ who is seen through the eyes of the ambitious and damaged Gusto.

As we would expect from Nesbo the plot was convoluted and the different narrative voices moved the drama around the city and between the past and present. The voice of the dead Gusto was initially quite irritating (I don’t like narrations from dead people, which is becoming a motif in Scandinavian crime fiction – see Midwinter Sacrifice and Until Thy Wrath be Past ) but showed us the evil of Mr Dubai in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. There were also some humorous moments involving Harry, such was when he sewed up his cut throat with a needle and black thread. Only Harry Hole could get away with this.

The phantom of the book’s title is eventually revealed and the narrative concludes leaving a number of possibilities for the future of Harry Hole. I found this book a return to form for Nesbo and could only marvel at the story he created.

Other reviews of the book can be found at Eurocrime , Crime Fiction Lover. and Milo’s Rambles.