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