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Nesbo, Jo - 'The Redbreast' (translated by Don Bartlett)
Paperback: 618 pages (Oct. 2007) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099478544

I read THE REDBREAST, number 3 in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, out of order, because for some reason THE DEVIL'S STAR, number 5, had been published in English first. That this did not affect my enjoyment despite prior knowledge of some of the events is testament to the brilliance of the story.

This is a long, six hundred and eighteen page, complicated book which breaks some of the rules of crime fiction, while at the same time exhibiting the features of the classical detective story. A good part of the book relates a backstory about the Norwegian soldiers who fought on the Eastern Front for the Germans in World War II. This does slow the progression with multiple flashbacks, but it is integral to the plot and the atmosphere of brooding Nordic melancholy.

Harry Hole after an unfortunate incident during the Oslo Middle East Peace Conference is given a political promotion to POT, the Norwegian security service. He begins a search for a very expensive Marklin sniper rifle that has been illegally imported into Norway. Harry discovers the purchaser to have been an old man, and then one of the old East Front men is murdered outside a cafe frequented by neo-Nazis. Harry's colleague from the crime squad the intuitive Ellen Gjelten gives assistance in monitoring these right wing groups.

The novel is littered with repulsive characters such as the skinhead Sverre Olsen, who so admires the old East Front fighters, and has the mysterious Prince as his contact and supplier of weapons. Then there is Bernt Brandhaug, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a sexual predator who wants to possess Rakel Faulke the woman with whom Harry hopes to begin a relationship. When Brandhaug realises Rakel prefers Harry he engineers his transfer to Sweden to monitor more neo-Nazi groups.

One thing I do like about the books is Harry's low key sardonic humour of which there are many examples in the book:

"How's it going with the report on the neo-Nazis?" he asked as he saw Harry in the doorway.
"Badly," Harry said, sinking into the chair...The E on my keyboard has got stuck," Harry added.

This novel is beautifully constructed like a jigsaw puzzle in two time dimensions, blended with a discussion on the nature of treachery and collaboration. When Harry eventually solves this slick puzzle it leads to a very dramatic climax.

I can heartily recommend the Harry Hole series but do try to read them in the correct order.

Read another review of THE REDBREAST.

Norman Price, England
October 2007

Norman blogs at Crime Scraps.

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 11:01