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161 of 171 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Novel
Those who follow mysteries are aware that some of the most intriguing works in that genre have been coming out of Scandinavia in recent years. Not least among these has been the work of Jo Nesbo, who lives in Oslo, Norway. His stories about police detective Harry Hole have garnered high praise. In fact, "The Redbreast" was voted the best Norwegian crime novel ever written...
Published on December 20, 2007 by Daniel W. Hays

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67 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So close to so good...
I share many of the enthusiastic reactions of other reviewers of this novel. As a writer and storyteller, Nesbo is way in front of the recent Scandinavian masters of the genre who have, in my view, produced the best police procedurals in the last generation, though I find Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallender procedurals), the reigning champion of the genre, tedious. But Per...
Published on July 21, 2010 by saintmaur


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161 of 171 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Novel, December 20, 2007
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This review is from: The Redbreast (Hardcover)
Those who follow mysteries are aware that some of the most intriguing works in that genre have been coming out of Scandinavia in recent years. Not least among these has been the work of Jo Nesbo, who lives in Oslo, Norway. His stories about police detective Harry Hole have garnered high praise. In fact, "The Redbreast" was voted the best Norwegian crime novel ever written by members of Norwegian book clubs.<
It's easy to see why, literally from the opening moments of the book. The pace is leisurely, but perfectly cadenced. The detail is carefully chosen, the revelations of character and depth drawn in easy strokes. This has to be attributed in part to translator Don Bartlett, but one must assume it was there in the first place.<
The book is set in the present, but its events cover a good deal of time. They go back to World War II, a time when some young Norwegian men willingly fought for Hitler. The plot includes the story of a war hero as well. So out-of-control and alcoholic Hole is plunged into a mystery whose elements reach far and wide.<
Hole is a wonderful, rich creation. And so is the villain in this book.<
"The Redbreast" is an ambitious book, a mystery, thriller, and serious work of literature combined. The fact that it is highly successful in each of its modes makes it the best thriller of the year - from any country.
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238 of 257 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You MUST discover what happens next!, February 20, 2007
By 
Carolyn L. Zaremba (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Redbreast (Paperback)
I'm hooked. I started reading The Redbreast on President's Day weekend and at first was skeptical. The tale seemed to bounce from one era--the present--back to the 1940s, and then back to the 1990s again, for no real reason. Until the characters wormed their way into my consciousness and the stories of WWII and the story of 1999 began to come together, that is. Wow! I stayed up nearly all night, unable to put this down. Nesbo creates real people in her characters, whose thoughts, no matter how horrific, are made understandable to the reader along with their passions, their fears and their hurts. I consider this not only a major contribution to the mystery/police thriller genres, but to the psychological and character-driven best works of Barbara Vine. This story creeps up on you without your being aware of it. Before you know it, you MUST discover what is going on and what will happen next. Highly recommended.
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123 of 136 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging murder mystery from Norway, August 31, 2008
This review is from: The Redbreast (Hardcover)
The Redbreast is an exceptionally well-crafted and atmospsheric novel weaving the skein of two storylines together, one concerning Norwegians who joined the Waffen SS in WWII and fought on the Eastern Front believing they were defending their country from Soviet annexation, and the other a murder mystery involving neo-Nazi's in modern Oslo. The contemporary murder is investigated by Norwegian Police Inspector Harry Hole and the puzzling case begins to lead Harry into a dark era of Norwegian history and he finds that to solve the mystery in the present he must first solve a baffling mystery from WWII. The author, Jo Nesbo, makes stunningly good use of his plot to show that the past is much more complicated and complex than it is often presented later and personal ethical, moral, and political choices in a confused time can lead righteous men in different directions.

I was extremely excited to get this book after reading the blurb on Amazon. A murder mystery, set partially in modern Norway (a beautiful country I would love to visit) and partially on the Eastern front during WWII, covering both real Nazis and neo-Nazis, seemed like it could be a great read. I haven't been as excited to get a book by a new author in a long time actually. When I received the book and read the dust cover I got even more excited...apparently this book was voted "the best Norwegian crime novel EVER". As if that were not enough, apparently Jo Nesbo is a well-regarded pop music talent in Europe with several top ten hits and is also an economist. My wife noted that he was also exceptionally good-looking. I decided, with a little effort, to not hold all of this spectacular over-achievement against Nesbo, and just try to enjoy the book. I jumped Redbreast to the front of the crowded reading queue and got started.

Before I venture into my thoughts on this novel let me preface my comments by saying that this is an exceptionally good book and I very much liked it. There several items which as I was reading struck me as noteworthy and which I believe are worth sharing here. These are not meant to be negatives, just observations that interested me.

The first hundred pages were slow going and I wasn't gaining much traction. There was nothing wrong with the writing but the story wasn't immediately engaging. After you cross that first hundred page barrier though the story picks up steam and becomes riveting. There were a few things about the book which could be a little off-putting but I think they are understandable in context. There is some dialogue that can seem odd, but I'm sure that it has to do with difficulties in translating from Norwegian. There are always unique cultural thought processes and manners of expression which do not smoothly translate from one language to another. These odd bits are noticeable but they do not detract from the story. Actually they made me pay more attention. There is much less character development of the protagonist, Harry Hole, than I would have expected. In thinking about the book I believe it is for two reasons. Nesbo has written seven books which feature Harry Hole. This is the third in the series but the first two haven't been translated yet. I wish they had been because I would have preferred to start at the beginning, and not having the background from the first two novels does make it harder to figure Harry out and to identify with his character. You do get there, but it takes much longer when you are essentially dropped into the middle of his life-story without any context. I'm reasonably sure the missing character development can be found in the first two books. The other reason there may have been less character development of Harry is that significant chunks of the book are about other protagonists. Another item which struck me was that if the reader is paying attention they will solve the mystery about 90% of the way through the book, but it takes Harry a little longer. There was nothing particularly wrong with this, it's just that in my experience the reader either gets to understand the mystery from near the beginning and then we cheer the protagonist on as they fit the pieces together, or its the other way round, the protagonist fits the pieces together for us and all is revealed to the reader by the competent sleuth at the denouement. I actually kind of liked struggling with Harry to solve the baffling mystery and getting there just a little ahead of him. It was just that I felt this was unusual enough to be worth noting, perhaps an approach unique to Nesbo or perhaps something we'll see more of in the future from other writers. One last unusual item, especially since some readers may be bothered by it, was that there was a tangetial murder that was not solved and a bad guy who was not nabbed. Perhaps this will be revisited in one of the succeeding Harry Hole novels when they are translated, or perhaps this is Nesbo realism. You can't catch all the bad guys all the time.

As I said, the foregoing are not meant to be negatives. I found the book to be thoroughly enjoyable after the first one hundred pages of set-up. The mystery, which bounces back and forth from WWII to the present was a truly excellent one that will leave you baffled and then thoroughly satisfied once the pieces fall into place. In fact, I think the mystery was handled exceptionally well. Although it didn't start this way, this novel did develop into one of those books that you don't want to put down. There was also one particular scene in the book which spiked my tension and stress levels way past any other reading experiences lately and I admired the skill with which Nesbo crafted that scene. I found myself wanting to shout warnings out loud to the character...that is some pretty strong writing when you become so involved you start to talk to the characters in the book! All in all, while I don't know if this is the best crime book ever from Norway, it is still a very fine crime book indeed and I will definitely be reading anything by Nesbo I can get. In fact, I think the biggest weakness of this book was simply the lack of preparatory Harry Hole novels. I hope they translate them soon.
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67 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So close to so good..., July 21, 2010
This review is from: The Redbreast: A Novel (Paperback)
I share many of the enthusiastic reactions of other reviewers of this novel. As a writer and storyteller, Nesbo is way in front of the recent Scandinavian masters of the genre who have, in my view, produced the best police procedurals in the last generation, though I find Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallender procedurals), the reigning champion of the genre, tedious. But Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, of some decades ago, still reign supreme.

Nesbo has some first-order talents: his characters are leanly drawn, yet complex; his story telling skills are masterful: the scenes of violence, for instance, are unexpected and devastating -to the reader as well as to the victims, and sometimes to the perpetrator. (Nesbo seems is more comfortable with violence than with tenderness, but maybe that's a weakness of the genre--and of his hero, Henry Hole.

In the end, unfortunately, the very richness and complexity of the plot paralyze the story. The denouement seemed contrived and self-conscious. The plot device used to convince the reader that the villain of the piece could be one and the same with one of its most noble characters was fatally unconvincing. The extensive `confession' of the culprit had a flatness that seemed entirely unsuited to the character and somehow vulgarized the entire experience. Part of the problem, I think, was that Nesbo had too much complexity to unravel at the end. There were too many important characters, all with much the same experiences, and with some pretending to be someone else, reducing the huge machine of a plot to a crawl for the final 50 pages

Moreover, some of the twists and turns seemed superfluous and distracted from the central story's momentum. Why for example did he need to introduce Sofia at all? Why the largely extraneous side story involving Inspector Waaler, which, astonishingly, was never resolved. Did Nesbo himself get so confused, he forgot to settle with this character?

So I was in the end hugely disappointed at this bravura undertaking-- because it came so close to being so good.

But I'll give Nesbo another chance; a thinner and more disciplined book could take him over the Sjowall/Wahloo bar.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Noir on Norwegian snow, October 21, 2009
This review is from: The Redbreast: A Novel (Paperback)
A mighty impressive novel. It interweaves the circa-2000 timeframe with a plot thread set in World War II on the Eastern Front, where many men from Norway volunteered to fight on behalf of the Nazis.

I greatly admire Nesbo's protagonist, Harry Hole, an alcoholic police investigator, yet one who doesn't seem quite like any other one we've known. He's emotionally complex and very much open to finding the right woman, and he is close friends with his female police partner, if a bit needy. I also appreciated the book's look at how Naziism held and for some still holds appeal in Norwegian culture, something I wasn't aware of. The mood of the book is pure noir, with bureaucracy and corruption just beneath the surface at every turn, frustrating our hero and the other moral characters of the book. Also, the hero's Ford Escort won't reliably start (and for some reason, he won't take it to a mechanic).

The plot is monstrously complex, and the book is more than 500 pages long, so this story is quite demanding on the reader. As the Washington Post reviewer pointed out, many of the Norwegian names sound similar, so it can be easy to get confused, especially when you haven't seen either Signe or Sindre for 50 pages. Also, the cast is massive, so there are a lot of people to remember. You may find yourself flipping back and forth a fair bit. This slows you down in getting through the story and may rob you of (or at least delay) a few ah-ha moments.

The fact that Nesbo safely lands this 747 of a plot at all is remarkable. However, he does rely on several convenient coincidences to make it all work, self-consciously so, it would seem. Check out this bit of dialogue:
"Yes, life throws up bizarre coincidences," Rakel said.
"So bizarre that you would never get away with it in fiction, anyway." (Harry said.)
"You don't know the half of it, Harry."

I think the plot got a little overgrown and would probably have benefited from being somewhat simpler. Also, the way the main plot thread resolves seems as if it would have catastrophic effects on the romantic subplot and that Harry would realize so, but we get no inkling of this.

In the end, though, this book definitely rewards your investment of money, time and intellectual energy. And I'm now primed for NEMESIS, about which I've heard so many good things.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Quiet on the Eastern Front, August 30, 2008
By 
Gary Griffiths (Los Altos Hills, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Redbreast (Hardcover)
"The Redbreast" is a smart and sophisticated crime novel, an intelligent and cleverly crafted tale of honor, disgrace, and chicanery that will have you scratching your head, unable to pull away from a convoluted mystery spanning nearly six decades while probing an obscure but fascinating niche of WWII history.

Written by Jo Nesbo in 2000, this Norwegian award winner was translated to English and released a couple of years ago. It starts in 1999, with Oslo police detective Harry Hole nearly causing an international incident when botched communications disrupt a motorcade transporting the President of the US. In an attempt to keep Hole - and Norway, out of the limelight, Harry is shuffled off to a government agency tasked with keeping an eye on neo-Nazi activity in the capital city. Abruptly turn the clock back some fifty-seven years to the Eastern front, to a team of Norwegian nationals, voluntarily fighting the Bolsheviks for the Wermarcht. From Oslo to Leningrad to Vienna and back, Nesbo takes the reader through contrasting images of frozen foxholes and gilded mansions, from traitors who betrayed Norway and joined the invading Nazis while maintaining a semblance of dignity to stone cold killers on both sides of history.

"Redbreast" is one of those rare gems of fiction that illuminate dark corners of history while at the same time maintain the pace and suspense of the best pop thrillers. The characters are well drawn and believable, though a word of warning: there are many, and some effort is required in keeping names, places and times in some order. Nesbo is tediously precise not only in his research, but moreover, in dropping obscure hints and foreshadowing leading to a climax that was as credible as it was unexpected, a series of multiple twists and turns that you'll need your Garmin to track, while leaving enough ambiguity to launch a sequel.

Nesbo will remind of the painstaking detail of LeCarre's finest works - "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" or "Smiley's People", and may recall images from Turow's "Ordinary Heroes" or Silva's "The Confessor". It shares the broodingly atmospheric Scandinavian fatalism of Icelander author's Arnaldur Indridason's outstanding crime fiction, especially the eerily similar and highly recommended "Silence of the Grave." This is an ambitious novel - and clearly one of the most engrossing books I've read this year - I'd highly recommend adding Jo Nesbo to that list of "must reads."
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dysfunctional Detective Again Saves The Day, January 2, 2011
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This review is from: The Redbreast (Hardcover)
Nesbo's a pretty entertaining plotter but literature this is not (and doesn't purport to be). This first of six Detective Harry Hole policers came out in 2000 (in English in 2006). It goes Redbreast, Nemesis, Devil's Star, Redeemer, Snowman, Leopard. All six essay the dubious premise that big things happen in Oslo, a world capital so small that some of the books come with a one-page street map. Nesbo's not the only Scandanavian crime writer mysteriously compelled to cite every avenue and lane in town. In Redbreast, past and present Nazis are featured, although Nesbo reports that the security police have identified 47 neo-Nazis in the whole country; in Norway, apparently, that's a lot. The Hole character is trite. Batchelor, dry drunk, smoker, rebel, constantly on the verge of getting fired . . . brilliantly intuitive and, after hundreds of pages of perplexity, rushing single-handedly, and contrary to procedure, to save the day. The books read pretty well because of Nesbo's ingenuity but it's hard for Americans to take seriously police detectives who aren't weapons-qualified and have to drive their own cars which often won't start. In sum, quaint, like a British manor whodunit, but on a national level. Who really cares whether the Norge Crown Prince might be assassinated by a psychotic? There's more feeling in Camilla Lackberg's similar series about the same small imaginary world.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the Greatest Introduction To Nesbo But I'll Give The Author Another Try, November 19, 2011
By 
Jennifer "Jennifer" (Sicklerville, NJ, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Redbreast: A Harry Hole Novel (Mass Market Paperback)
Book Description

Detective Harry Hole embarrasses the Norwegian police force during a U.S. Presidential visit so he is reassigned to the Norwegian Security Service as an Inspector (a promotion that gets him out of the way and is supposed to shut him up). Assigned to investigate what should be a rather mundane case, Hole instead finds himself getting embroiled in a possible assassination plot that has its roots in World War II--involving some Norwegians who served on the Eastern Front in the service of the Germans. Plunging Hole into the world of Norway's current crop of neo-Nazis and the men who served on the Eastern Front, he finds himself involved in a complicated case that gets more complex and confusing as time goes on--as well as threatening the lives of those that Harry holds dear.

My Thoughts

Although this isn't the first Harry Hole novel, it is the first one that was translated into English. Therefore, we're plunged right into Hole's world with little introduction. We quickly learn that Harry has a drinking problem, which he is fighting with the help of his brilliant young partner Ellen. The relationship between Harry and Ellen was the highlight of the book for me. Their partnership and banter felt authentic and livened up what was often a confusing read.

The confusion part came mostly from the events that take place in flashback during the war. We learn of several events that concern a small contingent of soldiers on the Eastern Front, which we know is related to Harry's current case. Exactly how they are related becomes clearer as the novel progresses, but I personally struggled to keep up with everything. NesbÝ gives his readers a lot of balls to juggle, and I confess I wasn't always successful in keeping them all up in the air. In fact, I was actually thinking of quitting the book about midway through, but I kept on. Part of my problem was the disorientation of being thrust into a series without being properly introduced to the main protagonist. Another was the Norwegian surnames (which was also a problem for me in the Steig Larsson books.) The other issue was the sheer complexity of the plot and my inability to hold it all together in my head.

However, there were moments where I started really getting into the story, and I began to glimpse what might have attracted others to this author. I liked that NesbÝ didn't choose to tell his story in a completely conventional way. At one point, each chapter is a series of answering machine messages. (This section was brilliantly done and really affected me emotionally.) So, although The Redbreast didn't set my world on fire, I'm willing to give NesbÝ another try. The next book in the series is Nemesis, so I'll suppose I'll give that one a go before deciding whether to continue with the series. (For the record, the order of the series for the books that have been translated into English is: The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil's Star, The Redeemer, The Snowman and The Leopard.)

Recommended for: Fans of complex police procedurals, readers looking for the "next Steig Larsson" (for the record, I don't think NesbÝ is the next Larsson but I can see why people make that comparison)
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shoddy research, May 20, 2011
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E. Bing (Pretoria, South Africa) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Redbreast: A Novel (Paperback)
This novel disappointed. The plot is convoluted, which I probably could forgive, but it is just too unbelievable. The research is poorly done - it is not difficult if the author wanted to use a black South African as one of the characters, to generate a typically "black" surname - this was not done. The death penalty was abolished in South Africa prior to the 1994 elections - the novel is set in 2000 and the death penalty is still used. The result for me, was that I disengaged from the novel and felt insulted that the author did not do even basic research.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense and challenging read, May 13, 2011
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This is my first Nesbo book, and my introduction to Harry Hole, and that may be why I found the story hard to follow in parts. The book is fast paced,complex and very well written. I found the Norwegian names and locations were more confusing than Swedish names and locations in Steig Larson's "The Girl"Series. Since I knew nothing about Norwegian soldiers' roles in WW2, many of those elements in the story were new to me. So, in a nutshell, did I love it? No, not yet because there were critical parts to the story line, that I just didn't follow, and I am an avid and experienced reader. Will I love it? Yes, because I plan to read it again, starting at the beginning. So, if you like a complex, unique plot, this book is for you. If you are looking for an easy read, or a romance, choose something else.

I definitely will read more of Nesbo's books. Harry is somewhat familiar- the rumpled,single, difficult detective, but he is a compelling character nonetheless.

Pros: Complex, intense plot, interesting hero, very well written

Cons: Complex plot, key element is Norway's WW 2 history, with which many American readers are probably not familiar, challenging to keep all the characters straight
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The Redbreast: A Harry Hole Novel
The Redbreast: A Harry Hole Novel by Jo NesbÝ (Mass Market Paperback - August 30, 2011)
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