Tag Archives: Jo Nesbo

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo – Book

Midnight Sun.jpe

Jo Nesbø wanted to write a book unlike his usual noir detective stories starring the ragged but morally straight Harry Hole. Nesbø says that he has always admired the Sámi cultural group (we know them as Laplanders) who occupy the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia including his home nation of Norway. The Sámi’s are hunters and reindeer herders and fishermen and, too often, drinkers. Their numbers are small and their towns are too, so most Sámi’s in a given community know each other well. Strangers do not visit the Sámi’s often. The climate is harsh; the sun is either low-in- the-sky and omnipresent, or is totally missing in action. These towns are not normally tourist destinations.

So when a “southerner” turns up in a Sámi town one day when the sun is still out at midnight townspeople guess that he may be on the run from something, but they don’t make a big deal of it. Jon’s first acquaintance when he gets off the bus in the town of Kasund is a native man called Mattis who, when asked says he can sleep in the church. Jon is obviously out of place. Mattis doesn’t even know the half of it, although he suspects. Jon has a gun tucked in the back of his pants. He is hiding a money belt full of stolen money. He is not a bad man really, but he is not a good man either. He is from Oslo and he is running away. He is running away more or less because of what he has not done than because of what he has done. He has suffered a great loss, but he is still trying to fight for his own life, although he is not sure why. He tells the man that his name is Ulf and that he came to hunt and he goes off to sleep in the church.

Then he meets Knut who is ten and his beautiful mother Lea who helps him before he even knows her name. She loans him her husband’s hunting rifle and hunting cabin. She’s a very good person whose father is a preacher in the very strict Læstadian Christian sect which is common among the Sámi people. Her husband is fishing but Ulf senses there is more to the story of this husband and wife than he is hearing.

Jon/Ulf is an unusual character for Nesbø to write about. He has a reputation as a killer but he has not actually killed anyone. He is a thief only because when he had to run he ran with a drug dealer’s money because it was there and it would have been stupid not to take it (although it was also stupid to take it). Jon worked for a low-life crime boss with a fearful reputation, called the Fisherman. The Fisherman does not let anyone who works for him do the things that Jon has done, or not do the things that Jon has not done.

Jon needed a large sum of money for a good reason, although I will not tell you what it was. I will tell you that I enjoyed Jon’s sojourn with the Sámi and the tale is certainly a departure for Jo Nesbø and I can also say that I think you might enjoy it. His Harry Hole books connect with those of us who live in modern cities much more than this short novel does, but the book is a nice tribute to the Sámi people and it is totally fair for an author to use his clout to bring this isolated group of people into our hearts and minds.

By Nancy Brisson

Phantom by Jo Nesbø – Book


Phantom by Jo Nesbø became one of my favorite books on the life and career of Harry Hole even as I was reading it and yet I almost missed it. I was certain I had read it but my bookseller kept insisting that I had not finished this one. After scanning a quick summary of the plot on Goodreads, I realized my bookseller was right.

One of the reasons that I found this to be one of my favorites is that in this novel Harry is clean and sober and has been for awhile. Harry is very effective at solving cases even when he is drinking but he has reached the stage, as an alcoholic, where his favorite beverage, Jim Beam, makes him ill almost as soon as he opens the bottle. A second reason this volume is a good one is that when Harry is sober he gets along better with others because his self-loathing takes a back seat to his pride that he has exercised self-control and that he has improved his fitness level with lots of physical exercise. Harry can be quite appealing when he is sober.

Harry’s lady love, who he has to avoid because of his self-destructive habits and his dangerous lifestyle, needs him. He flies back to Oslo after several years in Hong Kong. Harry is no longer a policeman; he apparently collects debts owed to his new boss through intimidation and more if necessary. Rakel’s son, Oleg (18), who sees Harry as a father figure, has been jailed for murder in what appears to be a private war with his best friend and drug dealing partner, the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Gusto Hanssen (19). How could things have gone so wrong with Oleg?

Oslo has been flooded with drugs for a long time but lately things have started to change. There are still dealers but there are only two teams, the elusive Dubai, and the “Hells Angels wannabes” Los Lobos. Oslo’s Orgkrim (a department within the police force) seems to be getting a grip on the drug trade and the drug scene seems to benefit from being organized. The number of addicts is decreasing and Oslo is starting to improve its international reputation. Heroin, which has to be smuggled in from abroad, has almost disappeared from Oslo’s streets to be replaced by a lab-compounded form of heroin called Violin, which is made right in Oslo. Soon there is only one dealer in Oslo, the man they call Dubai and that is who Gusto and Oleg work for.

Dubai is the phantom of the title. He lives a hidden life protected by his honchos and the way he has arranged his life, both personally and professionally. But he is not the only phantom we meet in this novel. We also meet two new policemen of interest who will loom large in future installments and who live double lives, which gives them the occasional quality of phantoms.

We get as close to romance and a few lighter social moments than we ever get in a Harry Hole saga but this situation is just as dangerous and life-threatening and complex as any of the crimes Harry untangles. What he finds may end up being everything but the real murderer of Gusto (who tells his own story posthumously at the beginning of each chapter). Gusto represents another phantom in this very villainous tale spiced with a bit of flirtation. This time follow the rat.

Good stuff!

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø – Book

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

When we read a mystery by Jo Nesbø featuring his now well-known police detective, Harry Hole, we know we are not in America. Of course there are the names of the people and the places, but there is also the close interaction of Norwegian politics and eastern European politics. In this novel, entitled The Redeemer, we are sort of embedded in the Salvation Army of Norway and the Serbian-Croatian war, the impacts of which were apparently powerfully felt even in Norway. Here we find a connection between the Norwegian Salvation Army and some Croatian survivors living as refugees.

We begin in a summer camp for Salvation Army families and a crime that is committed in secret against a young woman who never reveals to anyone what has been done to her or who did it, even though she knows the person who did this bad thing. We flash forward to the present where we find that these young people from this camp have grown into adults climbing the hierarchy of the Salvation Army. On an evening near Christmas at an outdoor S.A. concert a young member is executed. This act begins a complex set of events which presents our Harry Hole and his new boss, Gunnar Hagen, with a chain of deaths and with a criminal who is way more difficult to catch than he should be.

Again we have some gore to wade through, some really gruesome stuff, before matters are resolved. We get more than we bargained for in this particular volume but I, of course, cannot tell you about that. It’s a stunner, though.

Jo Nesbø is using some nifty effects, effects that good writers use, to add literary heft to his books and he is getting better at these as he goes along. In The Redbreast the author used birds as a literary device to unify the work and we find our attention diverted first by an out-of-season robin and later by a memorable sparrow and various other birds.

In this volume, The Redeemer, it is the transitions from scene to scene which provide the device used to pull us into actions taking place in diverse locations. When someone opens a door in one scene, a door is closed somewhere else to signal the beginning of a new scene; or we begin to open a door on one expected scene and the door actually opens on another scene altogether. This technique makes the novel tick right along. The effect is also very cinematic. We find the device used again as the novel ends.

Speaking of ticking along, ticking watches play a key role, not so relevant to the current murders, but key to a part of the lengthy story line that runs through several Harry Hole books.

The weather in Norway is so important in people’s everyday lives; summers are savored, winters often involve the daily use of almost survivalist level tactics. The author clues us in to the season and the weather conditions constantly until the weather becomes another character in the novel.

And last, but never least, we have the city of Oslo itself. By the time we arrive at the novel called The Redeemer we are starting to believe that we could navigate around Oslo using Jo Nesbø’s books. We also feel far more comfortable than we once did with those character names that once seemed quite exotic.

I have now caught up with the Harry Hole episodes that I read out-of-order before I decided to go back and start from Book One. Jo Nesbø, I will warn you, has something in common with George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame in that he also tends to kill off characters that we are attached to. This series has been quite a trip. Perhaps there will be more.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø – Book

the Devil's star

Harry Hole, am I getting sick of that once handsome, now sort of ragged-around-the-edges, often drunken detective on the Norwegian Police force? I am perhaps feeling a bit impatient with Harry but my interest has not flagged. He is so flawed. How can Harry be so brilliant and so self-destructive? Every little setback sends him back to the bottle and that’s where we find him at the beginning of The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø.

Harry knows now that fellow police officer Tom Waaler is not the upstanding, stable and well-organized detective he pretends to be. Tom and Harry are at the same level on the police force. Tom has plans to advance. Harry has plans to get through the day. Tom would never experience the strong emotions which tear at Harry. He is no tortured soul. I know Harry believes that Tom Waaler is a crooked cop and that he was involved in the death of Harry’s former partner, Ellen, but I don’t think Harry really realizes how cold-blooded the man who thinks of himself as The Prince is.

Harry has no idea how he will prove what he suspects about Tom and luck is not with him until a series of “ritual” murders leads him to the Prague connection from whence come the red diamond pieces of jewelry shaped like 5-pointed stars (devil’s stars or pentagrams).

Can you guess who the serial killer is before Harry finally figures it out. It is, as usual, a toughie. What connects Tom Waaler with the serial killer? Is there a connection? Is Tom the killer?

This tale is not for the fastidious. Nesbø gives us the most graphic and grisly details found in any of his novels so far. Forensics may be elegant in that it solves murders with science, but the evidence that must be analyzed is frequently made up of the bodily substances we avoid contact with; forensic explorations are often disgusting and not for the squeamish.

Of course, murder is also not for the squeamish. My brain enjoyed this episode in the Harry Hole saga, even if I felt inspired to utter the occasional “gross” or “yuck” about any number of the unpalatable details found in this particular Harry Hole adventure. If The Devil’s Star were made into a movie I would have my eyes covered through a few of the most memorable scenes. When all is said and done and the serial killer is caught and Tom “The Prince” Waaler, who may or may not be the serial killer, is dealt with, the novel ends with an interesting twist and a happy surprise.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Nemesis by Jo Nesbø – Book

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

This Harry Hole mystery, Nemesis by Jo Nesbø is the fourth book in this series. It is a complex story with a number of elements which could be related or not, and this is left purposely vague. Harry is still anxious to investigate the death of his partner Ellen Gjelten, who understood Harry so well and who he occasionally took advice from – rare for Harry. In Book 3 it looked like she was killed by Sverre Olsen while investigating a gun connected to an active gunrunner in the Oslo area, but Sverre Olsen turned up dead also and Harry doesn’t buy him as the murderer. For one thing the guns are still cropping up, guns with their serial numbers filed off, and there is a hat recovered at the scene which casts doubt on the solution that the police have accepted.

But Harry cannot solve this murder, which he is obsessing about, yet. He has a couple of other very puzzling cases which must be solved. There is a bank robbery by someone who is obviously a professional which would not normally fall to Harry in the Crime Squad, but to Ivarsson, Head of Robberies. However a women, Stine Grette, a cashier, is killed in the robbery so Harry must try to work with Ivarsson who he does not respect.

Harry is contacted by an old friend, Anna Bethsen, who he had a short affair with seven years ago. She is an artist and she seems to be trying to pull Harry back into their old relationship. But Harry is with Rakel and her son Oleg now (although they are in Moscow for a custody fight) so he is reluctant to see her. He should have listened to his inner voice because Anna turns up dead one morning after Harry has been to her place and on the same morning he awakens sick and groggy from a blackout. (Harry is an alcoholic but has been doing pretty well.) She has been shot through the head. There is a “system key” found which is key to this story (sorry about that). Anna is producing an artwork called “Nemesis” and there is a picture in her shoe of a woman and two children and a gun near her head with the serial numbers filed off. Harry begins to receive emails that threaten to reveal his role in this murder and he can’t remember what he did that night.

As he investigates Anna’s murder and the robbery and murder of Stine Grett, we see the famous team of talented investigators that Harry becomes associated with being put together. The names sound strange to those of us who speak English but I’m sure they don’t sound strange at all in Norway and, surprisingly, we get used to them quite quickly. We have Harry’s new partner, Halvorsen, a steady young man, Bjarne Møller, his boss the Chief Inspector, Karl Weber from forensics who is getting ready to retire and Beate Lonn, the shy and plain young forensic officer who will take Weber’s place and who has many talents, but also has inherited the ability to remember faces (forever). And we have Stale Aune, a psychologist who is a great help to Harry.

Ironically (probably on purpose) Harry also has a “nemesis”, fellow officer Tom Waaler. Everyone wants to like Tom Waaler because he follows rules, is organized, does his paperwork, is always available and stays sober, but Harry, in spite of his alcoholism, is a much more brilliant and dogged policeman with a well developed love of fairness and justice (the reverse of which puts him at war with unfairness and injustice) and the Chief Inspector likes Harry against his wishes, but not against his judgment. We know something that Harry and his colleagues and bosses do not know. We know the true nature of Tom Waaler and we know that everyone will know this eventually. He is the Prince and he will be caught, but not in this book.

One of the things that makes these two murders so hard to sort out is that Harry is not sure they are murders and there are two sets of male siblings involved along with a woman and three lovers and gypsies and the very interesting and somewhat Rasputin-esque figure of Raskol Baxhet, a gypsy bank robber who is currently in prison.

This Harry Hole book is really a good one, complex, a real brain twister, with lots of curve balls; curve balls only a genius reader of mysteries could probably catch (and that is not me). But I am perfectly willing to be lead along by a skillful writer and a talented inspector. Harry Hole, I’m still with you, onward to The Devil’s Star, Book 5, which for some reason I believe is going to be frightful.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø – Book

the redbreast

It is my goal this summer to read all the books in the Harry Hole (hoo-leh) detective stories by Jo Nesbø. This time I am not reading randomly. I am starting at the beginning. I began with The Bat (mostly set in Australia) and Cockroaches (set in Bangkok, Thailand) and I just finished The Redbreast, one of my favorites so far.

Harry is a policeman in the capitol city of Oslo in Norway. He is both a terrible and a great policeman. He is great because once he gets wind of a murderer he just will not stop until he knows every who, what, where, and why. He is a terrible policeman to his superiors because he never does as he is told. He is always in the middle of some situation that those in power want to sweep under a carpet and never again see exposed to the light of day. If someone on high finds a situation to be a personal or national embarrassment you can bet Harry, tall, blond Harry Hole, will be right smack in the thick of it. Harry gets moved out of Norway as often as he does to try to sideline him. Harry even gets promoted to try to put him out of commission.

He has an addictive personality which comes to the fore when he is grieving and there are many things to grieve about. His saving grace is that he has another gene that allows him to quit a bad habit when a case sucks him in. He is a Norwegian cowboy, a hero in a white hat with a dark side. He is a great crime solver and he is also attractive to women, although this can be problematic, but I cannot tell you why.

The Redbreast begins with Harry once again at the center of a potential national scandal, through no fault of his own. He actually did nothing wrong but the government wants the situation kept on the down-low. So Harry gets promoted to a quiet desk job. Right, and that will work for how long, we ask?

The Redbreast is an actual robin that Harry and his temporary partner and good friend, Ellen spot on top of a checkpoint booth while working as security during a visit from the American President. The robin, explains Ellen, shouldn’t be there. Very few robins stay in Norway through the winter because it is just too cold. The robin is obviously important to the story, hence the title.

After Harry is assigned to his ill-fated desk job the plot of The Redbreast goes back in time. Norway was occupied by Germany in World War II. The King left before the Germans arrived and spent the war in England. Not all Norwegians were happy about this. Some Norwegians were sympathetic to the Nazis and joined the German army; some just joined the German army to save their lives. Nesbø’s story centers on a group of Norwegians fighting for Germany just when Germany is beginning to lose the war.

First we meet them during the war, then after the war. Someone is murdered and Harry, who we know is supposed to be doing paperwork in his new office, starts his bloodhound routine. Harry is not a methodical searcher. His investigations are more organic than logical but he gradually teases out all the strands in the knot.

I never figure out the answer until Harry does but perhaps you are better at this. There is even some romance with a beautiful woman amongst Harry’s adventures with the old soldiers.

Jo Nesbø won two national crime writer’s prizes for this one.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Books in the series in order:

  1. The Bat
  2. The Cockroaches
  3. The Redbreast
  4. Nemesis
  5. The Devil’s Star
  6. The Redeemer
  7. The Snowman
  8. The Leopard
  9. The Phantom
  10. Police


Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo – Book

Cockroaches book

I have, for some reason, read Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books out of order and I still haven’t read the first book The Bat. These books, read in their order of publication would, I believe, show the author becoming more and more a master of his craft and a master of his fox hound of an inspector who cannot quit a case once it has been assigned until it has been solved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Clearly, you should never try to collar Harry Hole (who usually works for the police) and try to hold him back or give him rules that limit the parameters of his investigations, especially for political reasons. He will not allow the authorities to interfere with his need to get answers. Harry is also brilliant at unraveling clues, although he may reach his solutions too late or just in a nick of time, a technique of the writer that is designed to keep us reading compulsively (a technique that works).

Jo Nesbø is Norwegian and has won well-deserved prizes for this series of crime novels. In Cockroaches we find out that Norway has an ambassador to Thailand (once Burma) and we learn that there is a small community of Norwegians who live just about permanently in Bangkok. Who knew? Harry is in Norway when this case begins, drinking himself into oblivion because of something that happened to his sister, who has Down syndrome. When the Ambassador to Thailand in Bangkok turns up murdered in a motel known as a site for prostitutes (very young Thai girls often sold by very poor parents), the police in Oslo decide to send Harry. They believe Harry will be so drunk most of the time that he will be unable to get to the bottom of this case and will go along with whatever spin the Oslo Police Commissioner would like to give to these events.

Harry Hole’s colleagues don’t know him very well yet. He has only had one big case before this (The Bat) in Sydney, Australia and he is only in his thirties. When Harry gets to Bangkok we learn that he is kind of person who, given a good enough reason, can break a bad habit just by setting his mind to it. Once Harry quits drinking he gets down to business with the help of a very interesting American Liz Crumley, a nearly bald, plain-speaking Amazon who has become a valuable asset to the Bangkok police force and who helps Harry get his bearings in this teeming, sweltering city.

The murder of the Ambassador Alte Moynes is not easy to unravel. There are those who deliberately set false trails and lead Harry to temporarily reach incorrect conclusions. It is enlightening to roam around Bangkok with people as offbeat and smart as Harry Hole and his assigned cohort Liz. There are both real and metaphorical cockroaches in Bangkok, a city that doesn’t put too fine a point on trying to rein in men’s baser sexual proclivities. While the novel begins with the very common evil of men who buy the services of prostitutes, which, in this case, is complicated by the poverty of Thai families who sell their daughters to pimps so that the Thai girls in this trade are practically sex slaves and are much too young to have to do the things they are forced to do; the novel ends with pedophiles who move to Bangkok because very young children come from poor families also and because these grown men know someone will cater to their deeply disturbing tastes. Harry has a powerfully negative reaction to the “sins” he encounters in Bangkok and the end of Cockroaches finds him falling into a new anaesthetizing addiction.

If you decide to follow Harry Hole into the bowels of various cultures and human activities I highly recommend you begin at the beginning with the very first Harry Hole book, but I haven’t had any difficulty making sense of them out of their order of publication.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>