In the virtual neighborhoods I hang out in, it is nearly impossible to have not heard of Jo Nesbo. He has been compared to the "next Stieg Larsson", which I guess is meant to grab you by the lapels and make you take notice, but I'm not sure it is fair. Yes, he is Norwegian. Yes, he writes crime fiction. But I think the guy can stand on his own, no offense to the late great Larsson.
On a whim, I purchased two Nesbo books at a Borders closeout sale..."The Redbreast" and "The Devil's Star". What I found out after the fact was that Nesbo has 8 books published, all in a series that involves one Harry Hole, Inspector for the Oslo Crime Unit. "The Redbreast" is number 3, "The Devil's Star" is number 5. The rest of the books are either not available in the US or are not easily accessible. I'm just telling all of you this so you will be forewarned that reading them in order may not be possible until they are all translated. But nothing can be done to save me now. I'm reading my two books, order be damned.
Synopsis: Struggling on-again, off-again alcoholic, Harry Hole has been reassigned from the Crime Unit to the Norwegian Security Service. Although his superiors would prefer him to lay low and shuffle papers after a horrible shooting accident, this is against Harry's nature. He stumbles across a case that piques his interest: the illegal purchase of one of the world's most powerful and rare sharp-shooting rifle. Hole suspects an assassination is being planned.
Harry is plunged into a world of Neo-Nazis, arms smuggling, corrupt politicians, and deadly secrets between a small group of Norwegian men who fought for the Nazis on the Eastern front in WWII. A string of murders past and present, initially seeming unrelated, all intersect in a complicated and breathtaking tale of betrayal, revenge and passion. Harry's dogged determination to unravel the threads, though, could come with repercussions. Not only is his life at stake, but also his new-found sobriety and a new relationship.
My thoughts: Consider me blown away. If you pick up Nesbo expecting anything close to normal crime fiction, you will be blown away too. Just as my other colleagues have done with other Nesbo novels, I would highly recommend this one as well, but with disclaimers.
The narrative of the story goes back and forth in time, between the 1940's and the present day. At first, there is no connection whatsoever between the two plot threads, but of course we know they will eventually converge somehow. The problem comes in keeping it all straight in your mind.
I found the book started out slow and highly confusing. Gah! All these Norwegian names! I couldn't keep them straight. I had to flip back and forth compulsively. There were multiple plots, many of the names of characters were the same or very similar (Gudbrand, Gudeson, really?), aliases, double-crossing, multiple agendas, and talk of betrayal from every bad guy in a long list of them. I became extremely frustrated and confunded, and eventually just gave up and hoped it would sort itself out in the end. Well, good news, it did.
Once this baby got ramped up and I stopped trying to outsmart and out think it, it was a runaway train. One night, I was up until 3am in the morning trying to finish it.
This is crime fiction at its smartest. And Nesbo assumes his readers are up to the task...no dumbing down here. The character development (which would have been even better had I been able to read the first two installments, thankyouverymuch translators and publishers and whoever decided to introduce these out of order!) was rich and complex. There is no way I can now turn my back on Harry. I must know more. I liked him alot, even though he is severely damaged. But really, aren't all the good ones? He is determined and kind-hearted, and that is what counts.
The pacing started out slow, but by about halfway it picked up, and at the end you feel like you will be plunged headfirst into a brick wall at 90 mph. So for that last hundred pages, brew some coffee. You won't be sleeping until it is finished.
4.5 out of 5 stars