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Nesbo, Jo - 'Nemesis' (translated by Don Bartlett)
Hardback: 474 pages (Mar. 2008) Publisher: Harvill Secker ISBN: 1846551870

NEMESIS is the fourth Harry Hole novel (pronounced something like "Huller", I recall reading somewhere), and the third that's been translated into English. And it's difficult to find a review that doesn't make note of that. You'd think publishers would listen up when people moan about this issue. Then, Nesbo's risen quite quickly in the crime fiction league tables, so they must be doing something right. Or: Nesbo's growing popularity is a result of the undeniable quality of the books, regardless of the quirky order you're forced to read them in. I prefer to think it's the latter option. Because, to be frank, they are all so damn good.

Nemesis begins with a bank robbery. The teller is given 25 seconds to hand over the money. She does it within the time, but the robber raises the gun to her head and shoots her anyway. Then he escapes, having left no forensic evidence whatsoever.

Meanwhile, while Harry's girlfriend is in Moscow fighting for custody of her son, Harry hooks up with an old flame, Anna. As you do if you're an alcoholic cop on the route to trouble. He spends the night with her, but come the morning when he wakes up in his own bed, he can't remember a thing. Later on, she is found dead in her apartment, an apparent suicide. But Harry smells a rat. And as the bank robberies continue, he must quietly investigate Anna's death without drawing attention to himself. But that'll be difficult. Because someone's sending Harry strange emails. Someone who knows…

Jo Nesbo really is a remarkably good crime-writer. The nearest British comparison is Ian Rankin, but there are many areas where Nesbo is simply better. He may not capture Oslo in quite the same way as Rankin does Edinburgh, or have quite the same… thickness, in his portrayal of periphery characters, but his plots are immense, thrilling beasts, and Hole is just as compelling a character as Rebus if not more so. And Nesbo is just as good a writer, with just as compelling an insight into human beings. So far, none of Nesbo's novels have clocked in at under 450 hardback pages, and it's hard to imagine even Rankin sustaining a plot for that long in quite the same way. Writhing basilisks, there's always a new twist. The fact that he can sustain a plot for so long, constantly cutting it up and confounding expectations, is remarkable, and made all 474 pages of Nemesis a complete pleasure. To sustain the suspense, the pace, the tension, the interest, over so long, and to offer excitement from page one, is a stunning achievement. He shows a constant talent to surprise and shock, to pull the rug out from under you, again and again in an almost Deaver-esque way, but manages to do it (unlike Deaver) in a way that doesn't feel contrived or as if you're just watching a particularly well-made but heartless piece of clockwork. There's a passion for the genre here, and it comes across in spades.

NEMESIS is as thrilling and gripping as his previous books would lead you to hope. Harry may be your stereotypical alcoholic cop, but he still manages to feel completely original and as engaging as this kind of protagonist is able to be, which is rare, given that the genre is as saturated with them, as their blood is with alcohol. A brilliant thriller rife with violence and vengeance, it may be lengthy but you won't want it to end.

Fiona Walker, England
March 2008

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 1/11/2009 10:58