184 of 201 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2012
Aside a nagging suspicion that the title 'Phantom' looses some of its meaning in translation (the actual story isn't particularly Phantomesque) this is definitely one of the more bad-ass titles around.
I'm not familiar with earlier Harry Hole works, however Nesbo pens such a brilliant character I was just as attached as a die hard fan. Phantom is also free of annoying information dumps, Harry's past is explained seamlessly through the ongoing plot.
The story revolves around the death of a 'Gusto' a local junkie that the cops don't care much for, but was friends with Harry's son (cue personal vendetta, against the entire drug trade of Olso City)
Nesbo adopts an interesting P.O.V. and gives us Gusto's dying thoughts, along with Harry's real-time investigation and interestingly I found Gusto's brutal narrative one of the more compelling aspects of the story. Nesbo also skilfully dances around with the 3rd person perspective creating a dynamic narrative, where many authors would have only made a clumsy mess.
Twists abound in this gritty, painful tale, so hold onto something as you chew your nails off experiencing one of must-read thrillers of 2012!
70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2012
When I first started reading this latest Harry Hole novel, my hopes sank a little. It's about a new drug (called violin, a bit sad for me as I play the violin), drug smuggling, and the control of drugs in Oslo. I've never been one for stories on drugs and drug rings, (exception claimed for the tv show Breaking Bad), it's just something I'm really not interested in. But as Nesbo's brilliant writing kicked in and the plot took form I was hooked and couldn't put it down. As the story develops it becomes so much more - about family, relationships, morals and ethics, life and death. Nesbo is so skilled at laying clues and plot footholds as the novel progresses they don't even register. His ability to investigate the motives of the litany of characters drives the complex plot with its twists and turns, which leaves you puzzled, guessing (mostly wrongly) and breathless - and absolutely stunned at the climax.
As for the story itself, I don't won't to give away too many spoilers so will only say that Harry flies back into Oslo for the only reason that would bring him back, someone he loves is in trouble, and that's Oleg, who is now 18. It's a great relief to see Harry sober, although still fighting his demons, so that he can sort out the huge mess Oleg has gotten himself into. Poor Harry is put through the wringer again, but at least he and Rakel get to rekindle their romance whilst Rakel's boyfriend obligingly cools his heels.
Harry books into the Hotel Leon, where an old retired vagrant of a pastor is living in the room next door, who likes nothing more than to chew his arm off and take his cigarettes. A murdered teenager tells us his story as he lays dying, and slowly most of the pieces of what has happened come together. A Russian drug lord has a couple of new gruesome and ingenious ways of doing away with his enemies. A Norwegian native gets in on the drug manufacturing with disastrous consequences. The gorgeous Mikael Bellman has been promoted to head of Orgkrim, but he's still not entirely trustworthy. There's a `burner' in the police force, an astonishing concept I've never heard of, and a woman councillor whom I'm never sure is a woman or not.
I'm usually spot on in picking who-dunnit, but I missed nearly every clue (although I did get one), and certainly did not see the end coming. Now that I have finished the book I have found myself flipping back to reread the clues that I missed, and I still think there is one thing left unfinished (hopefully for the next book!). I think I need to read the whole book again. I'm only sorry that I will probably have to wait another year for Jo Nesbo's next book. This is a great story, vicious and heart-rending all in one, which makes it unforgettable. I think it is Nesbo's best yet. Surely to be a movie. It's worth more than 5 stars.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
After the horror of the serial murders in The Snowman and The Leopard, Harry Hole leaves Oslo for Hong Kong, with no intent to return. But, three years later, he's back. Not because of another serial killer, but for more personal reasons.
When Harry arrives, everything in Oslo seems old and new at the same time. Oslo is a city with a serious drug problem. That's not new. What is new is the highly addictive drug called "violin." It's playing so many of the city's young people, including Oleg, the son of Harry's former lover, Rakel.
Oleg's friend, Gusto, has been murdered and Harry investigates--even though he's no longer in the police force and some of his old colleagues are more than a little bit hostile to him. In alternating stories, we read about Harry's investigation and the events leading to Gusto's murder. Although Harry and Rakel agreed many years before that it was too dangerous for Rakel and Oleg to have Harry to be in their lives, Harry still feels like Oleg's father and will do anything to help him.
Gusto's story is told in his own voice, speaking to his long-gone biological father. Nobody ever had anything good to say about Gusto's father, and Gusto is a sociopath, but the one person in the world Gusto feels compelled to prove himself to is his absent father. As Oleg asks Harry: "Don't all boys see their fathers as heroes?"
The Phantom is a return to form for the Harry Hole series after the digressions into long, convoluted serial killer stories in The Snowman and The Leopard. The Phantom is also (almost) free from the gruesome and extended torture descriptions and ridiculously unlikely escape sequences that marred those books, especially The Leopard. That doesn't mean that The Phantom is any walk in the park, though. Nesbo pulls no punches in describing the degraded life of drug addicts and the way the drug trade corrupts everything and everyone it touches--not just the buyers and sellers. We see the whole lineup of chemists, policemen, politicians and other middle-class worthies who are involved in the drug trade and hear the lies they tell themselves to justify their choice.
This is a gripping police procedural/thriller, but with real feeling. The last two chapters, in particular, are stunning, heartbreaking and unforgettable. If you're a regular reader of the Harry Hole series, you'll want to read this as soon as possible, before somebody spoils the plot for you.
84 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2012
Jo Nesbo's Phantom continues the adventures of rogue Norwegian policeman Harry Hole.
Returning from Bangkok to Norway, Hole is intent on proving that Oleg, the son of his former girlfriend, Rakel, is not guilty of the murder with which he's being charged. As usual, the plot involves corrupt policemen, underworld Mr Bigs, and a twisty, turny plot that Nesbo uses to manipulate our sympathies.
Translated from Norwegian by the author's usual translator, the prose has its typical clunky effect. The problem with translating - I speak from a little experience - is that when you come across a phrase in the original that, when translated into English, seems a little odd, it's often difficult to know whether that was the author's intention or not. So for example:
"But when he went back to the front door the boy had hopped it."
The phrase 'hopped it' reeks of the 1950s, and is given to us as representing the thought of a policeman in 2011. Does Nesbo want this slightly dated turn of phrase to represent this policeman? Or is it an attempt by the translator to be a bit casual and different, rather than using a simple expression like 'run off' or even 'legged it'? If nothing else, if I were Nesbo, I'd wonder whether my American readers would understand this very British usage ...
As in most of his previous books, Nesbo's tactic in Phantom is to set several hares running and organize the plot so that they all arrive at the finishing line together. So here we follow Harry's story as he investigates the crime, but we are also given the first-person narration of the person who was murdered - Gusto, a young drug-dealer and junkie. Add to this a certain amount of the story told through the eyes of a bent cop, Truls Bernsten, and the narrative lines become complicated - especially as many of the other characters also add their own reported narrations into the mix.
The effect of these multiple viewpoints, unfortunately, is to muddy the story rather than clarify it. Now in a crime story a certain amount of ambiguity is acceptable and even expected, as first one person then another becomes the focus of our attention as the suspected murderer/criminal. But in fact the information we're given from the different viewpoints seems to be there simply to 'surprise' us, not to be part of a slow revelation of clues that help us understand the underlying crime. For example, there's a scene where Harry leaves the apartment of someone he knows is guilty of a crime. When he leaves, the individual reaches for a rifle that Harry hadn't found when searching the place and aims at Harry's retreating back as he walks away ... end of chapter. New chapter: the guy takes a deep breath and puts down the rifle, having decided not to fire. Now this is uncalled for in context and isn't particularly dramatic, because we know Harry isn't going to be shot in the back when there are 60 pages still to go. The scene is there simply to act as a teaser, to force us to turn the page and start a new chapter.
This is an obvious example, but there are others that are less obvious until you start to see them. For example, there is a set-up early in the book that an assassin has been put in place to kill 'a policeman'. It soon becomes clear that this is Harry. Nesbo shows us the assassin preparing himself and we even catch glimpses of him 'in the background' as we follow Harry working on the case. Without giving any of the plot away, the assassination attempt comes to light ... but the rationale for it is extremely thin. Essentially, the chief Bad Guy was aware that Harry would come to Oleg's defence and wanted to take him out of the picture. In fact this would require such foresight on the Bad Guy's behalf that it's fairly preposterous. But tactically, for Nesbo, it's a way of adding some tension into the first half of the story, while Harry is re-acclimatising himself to Norway and starting his investigation. Without this 'tension' the book wouldn't really contain any genre markers for 'thriller' and would be a fairly mundane police procedural, at least for its first half.
So this is my main gripe about the book. Nesbo's focus seems split. As in the previous books, he develops Harry Hole's character as addictive, intelligent, even cunning, stubborn and in thrall to Rakel, the love of his life. He also spends a lot of page-time exploring the world of Gusto, the drug-addict/victim. There's a real intention to show us these characters as real people with depth, passion, flaws and hopes.
On the other hand, he's writing for an audience that expects a certain number of 'thriller' buttons to be pushed. There has to be surprise, revelation, mysterious bad guys and violence. All of which he supplies, but in an almost mechanical fashion. The plot events whir like cogs and bring us to a resolution, but it's as if the two sides of the story don't quite fit together, the cogs don't mesh.
And this is clear in the sense of 'Wha' happened?' that hits you at the end of the story. The resolution brings a lack of resolution. Is Mikael Bellman a bad guy or not? What part did the character Dubai play in the story? Why did we spend so much time with Tord Schulz at the beginning of the book when he disappears so rapidly afterwards? And the book ends with an even bigger mystery than it began with, that I can't mention because it would be the biggest spoiler of all ...
Jo Nesbo is extremely popular and rightly so. His earlier books had prodigious bad guys, well-tooled plots and a character in Harry Hole who suffered physically and psychologically for our enjoyment. In Phantom, I'm afraid that the plotting tactics he's used before - concealing 'real' identities from the reader, revealing back-story bit-by-bit to explain the present narrative, using interesting killing tools, punishing his hero - have tipped over the edge into self-parody. He's certainly pushing the envelope of what he does as a writer, but this time it's at the expense of coherence and, in the end, enjoyment.
(Taken from my blog at Crime Writing Confidential.)
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2012
Wow, Jo Nesbo did it again and topped the last book.
His novels get better and better and nobody will be disappointed with this one.
Harry is back and finds himself back at his home turf in Oslo solving crime.
The book keeps you guessing up to the last pages and will end with a bang. Get ready to spend time around the water cooler talking about it with your co-workers.
No wonder Hollywood is dying to bring Harry Hole to the big screen.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2012
I had mixed feelings about reading this book! I couldn't wait to read the next chapter, but I knew it was taking me closer to the end and I didn't want it to end... What a haunting story, one that stayed with me for days and that still remains with me. An unexpected and heartstopping ending. Brilliantly written, as usual.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2012
I've read them all and this one is the best of the lot.
Thrilling, great humor, and Nesbo paints some amazing scenes with his words.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Harry Hole, a former detective with the Oslo police department and protagonist of The Snowman, has spent the last three years in Hong Kong. He's not quite the man he once was. He may be managing his alcoholism and other addictions, but he's tormented by a past that has left him emotionally and physically scarred. He has a titanium prosthesis in place of one of his fingers. His main reason for the replacement digit is so that he can still chain smoke, although the prosthesis plays a significant part in the story.
He's back in Norway because his former lover's son, Oleg, is in prison for murdering a drug dealer named Gusto, whose body was discovered in a drug den. Though the murder weapon wasn't found, all the other circumstantial evidence points at Oleg, who was arrested near the scene of the crime with Gusto's blood on his shirt and gunshot residue on his sleeve.
Harry considered Oleg his surrogate son when he was with Rakel, so the case is personal for him. Though he has no authority, he behaves as if he was still a member of the department, calling in favors from past associates. Naturally, the investigation brings him and Rakel back into close contact, with possibly predictable results.
Since Harry left Norway, Oleg's life has been in a downward spiral. He got tangled up with drugs. Of late it has been "violin," a new synthetic heroin that has been flooding the streets. Violin has advantages over other street drugs: it lasts longer and there are few overdoses. The drug is gradually pushing its competitors off the market, establishing a monopoly in Oslo's darker corners, of which there seem to be many. Like most crime writers, Nesbø depicts parts of his native land that few tourists experience.
Lurking behind the scenes is a shadowy figure known to the drug dealers as Dubai, the phantom for which the book is named. Connections from his organized crime network extend into various police organizations and into the political realm as well. A "burner" (called a mole in some circles) inside the organized crime division keeps the criminals current about any threatening investigations, greases some bureaucratic wheels and cleans up messes when they occur.
When Harry starts, he has hold of only a single thread of this complicated tapestry. The more he tugs at it, the more he unravels, making him a target. The plot becomes more and more convoluted and Harry's exploits become increasingly harrowing and incredible. The way he extricates himself from certain predicaments strain at credibility and the story's resolution relies on some rather convenient coincidences. Just when it seems like Nesbø has pulled off his coup de grâce, he whips out even greater surprises.
One odd aspect of the book is that sections are narrated in first person by Gusto as he dies. Also, there are parts narrated by a rat that encounters Gusto's body. What this is meant to convey remains unclear. Though Gusto obviously knows who pulled the trigger on him from the beginning of the book, he is coy with the details. The book would not have been significantly hampered if these sections had been removed.
Though he has his own unique phantoms, Harry is another in a long line of dark, depressed protagonists, which are almost becoming a stereotype. He's as battered as a punching bag, but still irresistible to women and smarter than the average megalomaniac. He can handle anything thrown at him, dodge bullets, avoid capture by criminals and squads of police alike, sweet talk little old ladies, and sew up his injuries with needle and thread. In short, he's James Bond after being put through the wringer. Still, Nesbø's novels are sufficiently fast paced and the storylines amply convoluted to keep readers turning the pages until the bitter end.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Everything you could have wanted to know about drug addiction...the druggies, the drugs, how they make the stuff and sell it and snort it and smoke it and stick it in their veins....is in Phantom. This does not necessarily make for enjoyable afternoon reading in the park, but you will pretty much know everything about the drug world you ever wanted to know by the time you put this book down.
You may even decide to become a drug addict yourself. In fact, Phantom has made me decide to become a drug addict. At age 100. My pusher is going to be a sexy young thing in her mid forties, slinking around in black tights and high heels. She can cash my Medicare checks as long as she keeps an eye on my stash.
Jo Nesbo is a great writer. Even if Nesbo wrote a clunker it would be better than 95% of the books out there today. Not that Phantom is a clunker...by no means...but it is not Nesbo at his best. He tried to put too much into Phantom. I think he was writing with an eye to making a movie out of the book, which in itself is not a bad thing, but this movie has scenes from James Bond (pick your flick,) Raiders of The Lost Ark, Casablanca, and probably Panic In Needle Park.. which gets mentioned by name and which I think is the name of a movie, but I'm not quite sure.
The escape scenes are a bit implausible... for example, you are sure the hero gets killed in one scene, but he turns out to have been saved by an empty whiskey bottle. And the romance triangle, presumably a la Casablanca, would never have been enacted by Humphrey Bogart, Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca the way it gets enacted in this book. The strength of the scenes in the movie between Bogart and Henried lies in the fact that the two men never speak to each other of their love for Ingrid Bergman. The relationship hovers over them creating a wonderful tension. In Phantom the two male parts of the triangle get kind of blubbery with each other. Real men don't do this kind of thing.
Then there are the coincidences: there are just too many of them. The most implausible coincidence (SPOILER WARNING, SPOILER WARNING) is that both our hero, Harry Hole (isn't that a great name for a detective? I am told that in Norwegian the surname Hole is pronounced Hou-lay or something like that, but come on...they should pronounce it like Americans do...Harry HOLE) (That was just a pause for you to reflect on the fact that what's coming next is a SPOILER for some...) Well, both Harry Hole, our hero, and his protagonist villain (who shall remain unnamed,) have come to Oslo because of their sons. And (here's the real kicker,) their sons are best buddies!!!
Well, if you can accept that kind of coincidence without guffawing, you will love this book. I was with the guffawers.
Jo Nesbo always informs us of interesting stuff. In Phantom you will learn about a link between aspirin and heroin, for instance, which is worth the price of the book itself. You will learn the meanings of various body tattoos to members of the Russian crime world. You will learn the meanings or derivations of interesting words such as Cassock. This is typical Nesbo stuff. So there is plenty of redeeming value in the book. I simply think it is not Nesbo at his best, and I hope the movie they make of the book earns Nesbo a fortune. And yeah, I will definitely go see the movie.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Jo Nesbo's THE PHANTOM features Det. Harry Hole returning from self-imposed deportation in Hong Kong to try and help out Oleg, the closest thing to a son he ever had. Oleg is Rakel's son, a woman he loved but left him after what the Snowman did to her and Oleg a couple of novels ago. Harry isn't a cop anymore, but still knows enough people to get the information, help, and cooperation he needs.
Oleg isn't the kid Harry remembers. Oleg has gotten involved with the drug culture and has been selling a new highly addictive synthetic drug called violin with Gusto and his foster sister Irene. Gusto was murdered, and Oleg arrested. Harry is convinced Oleg is innocent, and does everything he can to free Oleg while protecting him from the Phantom, the man who has cornered the Swedish drug market.
This has everything readers excpect out of a Nesbo novel: violence, depravity, complex plot, moral quandaries. The plot is really quite simple. It is about a drug culture, and those helping the Phantom and those trying to stop him, and those doing both. If anything, this novel delivers a powerful anti-drug message.
I enjoyed Harry's rekindled relationship with Rakel. This is the one woman who cares for him. At the same time, Harry seems intent on self-destruction, never really believing happiness is possible. The story moved along quickly with much of the novel the story of Gusto, who provides the needed backstory for the drug trade, since he is dead as the book begins.
Nesbo's novels are dark, violent and brooding. They are long and deliver a complex story with lots of interesting characters. I highly recommend it.