120 of 122 people found the following review helpful
Hot Summer, Torrid Crime Fiction
, September 26, 2008
This review is from: The Devil's Star (Mass Market Paperback)
When it comes to crime fiction, I'm not an easy mark. I look for intricate but credible plots, well-developed characters, richly drawn settings, and lean dialog that compliments and develops the story, the characters and the setting, rather than as a misplaced prop which tries to make the hero some kind of cross between Chris Rock and Dirty Harry. So when I say that you should do whatever it takes to find a copy of Jo Nesbo's "The Devil's Star", and "The Redbreast" that precedes it, trust me that is worth the extra effort and extra bucks. (Neither of these novels, originally published in Norway and later translated to English by Don Bartlett and published in England are easily - or cheaply - found).
"The Devil's Star" starts brilliantly - the journey of a drop of water through a century-old Oslo apartment building that ends with one of the most original renderings of a murder discovery that I can remember. This cleverly told opening sets a literary and mystery high bar that never lets up and never betrays the author's implicit promise to the reader of an intelligent, complex, and appropriately brutal Scandinavian crime masterpiece. It is an unusually hot summer in Oslo, and most of the population, including the police force, is on holiday when a young woman is found dead in her apartment - one finger short and a red star-shaped diamond inserted under an eyelid. Harry Hole, the renegade Oslo inspector introduced in "The Redbreast" is assigned to the case with his nemesis, top brass-favorite Tom Waaler. To say the Hole has fallen on hard times is like observing Norwegian winters may get chilly - he is in an alcoholic stupor, despondent, suicidal, barely functional, and alone - the result of his obsession with the crimes he's certain Waaler committed in the preceding novel. When a second body shows up, similarly desecrated and adorned, it is feared that Oslo has a serial killer on their hands, setting the stage for an epic tale of crime and deception, of demons real and demons imagined.
Nesbo's Harry Hole is the maverick cop we've all seen many times before - unconventional and anti-bureaucracy, an alcoholic who is perpetually one step or one day or one punch away from a forced retirement. But from the talented Nesbo's pen, Hole takes on depth and baggage beyond the common - the tragic hero whose obsessions win the reader's empathy while driving those close to him further away while his unorthodox methods and atypical supporting cast unravel the puzzle - or in this case, a veritable smorgasbord of puzzles. For in a somewhat unusual twist, unresolved and nearly forgotten threads of "Redbreast" show up here, where they are taken decidedly and decisively to truly chilling, suspenseful, and ultimately redeeming conclusion.
So like I mentioned - this is crime fiction about as good as it gets. Intelligent and convoluted in a totally consumptive way, with twists and turns and clever head fakes - that rare novel that will have you scratching your head and re-reading passages - fiction that will have you rushing to get to the end while hoping it never does. Do yourself a favor and find a copy of both of Nesbo's translated works - if you're like me you'll be hoping this talented young author keeps writing and finds a US publisher.
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