Customer Reviews: Nemesis (Vintage International)
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on September 22, 2011
I hate leaving a review like this because it has nothing to do with the quality of writing, which I find compelling and evocative. The Kindle edition is missing page 261 (which is the beginning of the last chapter in a section and therefore almost the worst possible page to miss). I looked all over Amazon's site and could not find a means to report this so here it is, for all to see.

Buyer beware of the missing "page"!
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on October 5, 2010
[NOTE added 09/07/2013:] - Because of a coding error on Amazon's part, Amazon has merged the customer reviews of Jo Nesbo's detective novel, "Nemesis", with the customer reviews of Philip Roth's "Nemesis." This affects both books' product pages and it is confusing to potential readers of each book. Amazon is aware of the snafu but hasn't yet corrected the problem. The review below relates to Philip Roth's "Nemesis".]

One thing the prospective reader may want to know is that Philip Roth's "Nemesis" is an old-fashioned novel. The book has the glow of a twilit, though painful, reminiscence. It is set in the Jewish Weequahic section of Newark during the war year of 1944. Roth imagines the community suffering through a devastating polio epidemic that cruelly maims and kills its youngest members. The protagonist is Bucky Cantor, a young man, a stalwart common man, whose decision whether to remain at or abandon his post as summer playground director will have fateful consequences.

Very early in his career Roth sent to Saul Bellow a draft of a short story he was trying to get published, asking for comments and advice. Bellow replied: "My reaction to your story was on the positive side of the scale, strongly. But mixed, too. I liked the straightness of it, the plainness." A half century later, Roth's new novel respects Bellow's preference. Direct, straight and plain, "Nemesis" unfolds in a manner you may not immediately associate with Roth. It is as if, having chosen to set his tale in the mid-twentieth century, Roth decided to set aside the signature style and quirks he's perfected in the last few decades, and, instead, hark back to the American literature of that earlier period, embracing its feel and direction. For me, that embrace is one of the pleasures of this short novel.

The straightforward narrative of "Nemesis," which follows the traditional path of exposition, rising action, conflict, and aftermath, eschews the inventive and experimental course Roth took in some ambitious novels of the 1980's and 1990's, notably "The Counterlife" and "Operation Shylock." The surprisingly plain voice of the new novel, narrated not by some maniacally garrulous Nathan Zuckerman type, but by an even-tempered, practical-minded witness (who later reveals himself to have been one of the Newark child polio survivors) imparts a classic balance to the proceedings. Also un-Roth-like is the absence of ethnic satire (the Jewish community is lovingly portrayed). Readers expecting to encounter Roth's comical eye for the worst in people, a celebration of joyous rebellion, a sexual adventurousness, will be disappointed. Also, though fulminating anger abounds (Bucky repeatedly shakes his fist at a God "who spends too much time killing children"), that energy may not be enough to change the final verdict of some readers who will find the book lackluster and timid.

In its style (simple and earnest) and in its themes, "Nemesis" reminds me of the classic mid-20th century American fiction that has long been a staple of high school English classes -- especially the books, stories and plays featuring common men, ordinary Joes, who meet tragic ends. "Nemesis" shares with Steinbeck's "The Pearl," Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," and Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," the theme of the vicissitudes of fate and the contingency of our existence. Roth shares with those authors and their social realist contemporaries -- the writers who commanded the stage when he was young -- an interest in the way the world at large shapes our private lives, and how accidental forces shape individual destiny. If you still have a fondness for those books -- maybe because they were the vehicles through which you first learned to read intensely and interpret critically -- then you are bound to like "Nemesis."

"Nemesis" is unafraid to tackle the moral dimensions of our actions and lives. By book's end we have come to realize all of us are carriers of disease -- "bringers of crippling and death" -- if not in a literal sense then in the form of anger, suspicion, self-pity, greed and selfishness. Roth raises anew the old questions: What is our responsibility to our fellows? Are we all to blame? One is reminded of Arthur Miller, especially the stark examination of these issues in his play, "Incident at Vichy," set in World War II. Are we left with the impossible choice between either resigning ourselves to the suffering of others or taking on a responsibility whose dimensions doom us to failure?

Time will tell, but "Nemesis" could emerge as the one classic Roth novel all should read.
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VINE VOICEon January 26, 2009
In the tradition of the great European crime novels like "The Laughing Policeman", "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, Nesbo continues with his Harry Hole novels in this terrific new entry.

Hole, struggling with his alcoholism as well as his new love relationship and the death of his partner, finds himself caught up in trying to solve a murderous bank robbery while trying to convince his superiors that his partner's death is - contrary to their belief - still unsolved and that he should be allowed to pursue an investigation into it.

This is a compelling entry in the series, with rich characterizations and impeccable plotting.

The only thing that readers should be aware of is that the novels of the series published in English thus far have been translated and published out of sequence; this is actually the second book of the series, though it's come out in English third, and the plot line about his partner's murder was resolved in the third book - which was actually the first one published in English (The Devil's Star). Did you follow that?

If so, dig in and enjoy.
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on January 22, 2012
Dear Amazon - Please take a close look at the top of this page. See the cover? Does that look to you like the cover for Jo Nesbo's Nemesis? Didn't think so. That picture is also what is on my Kindle.

Look, I'm a huge Nesbo fan, and I love this book, but if you are going to be serious about your business, Amazon, fix the darn quality control. This sort of thing is just not acceptable.
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on October 6, 2010
In 2003--the height of the SARs outbreak--during a visit with my Mother, she told me of her childhood in the midst of a polio outbreak in her hometown that left two of her friends crippled. Thanks to Dr. Salk, it was a threat I never had to face. When I heard the subject of Philip Roth's new book, I was drawn back to the story she had recounted, and I had to read it. I had hoped the book would give me an insight into the world in which she had grown up, and it did not disappoint.

'Nemesis' is a fictitious account of an epidemic terrorizing the citizens of Newark, New Jersey. Bucky Cantor, 23 year old phys ed teacher and playground director, is one of the few young men left in Newark after Pearl Harbor. Being rejected by every branch of the military for his poor eyesight, Bucky is not only saddened to see his friends leave, he is hurt that he is unable to participate. While his friends fight to advance the allied foothold in France, Bucky is facing an equally devastating adversary on the playground he is in charge of. Polio is rapidly sweeping Bucky's ward and, in witnessing it's effects, Bucky is struggling with his own courage to stand up and fight.

The book explores beautifully how people cope with loss, and how people react in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It also delves into the decisions we make, the motivations behind those decisions, and the repercussions that only become clear in hindsight.

The book--almost mercifully--is a short, quick read. It is incredibly intense at times and does not afford much in the way of reprieve from the intensity. That is not to discourage readers, however, because what Roth has given is not only an account of life during a polio epidemic, but a piece of WWII-era Americana. 'Nemesis' is a fascinating and enlightening read that I would highly recommend.
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on January 13, 2009
If you're a fan of complex police drama, intelligenty written and cleverly crafted, then the talented Norwegian author Jo Nesbo's crime fiction should find a place on your bookshelf. "Nemesis" is the third English translation of Nesbo's tales of Oslo police inspector Harry Hole, chronologically fitting in between the two previous US releases, "The Redbreast" and "The Devil's Star" - both excellent and well worth finding and reading.

"Nemesis" starts with Hole painstakingly reviewing the surveillance video of an Oslo bank robbery that escalates to murder at the hand of the coldly proficient perp, an obvious professional who leaves nothing to chance, his face concealed with a baklava, his voice unprintable, no fingerprints, no fibers, few clues of any kind to crack the case. But from Jo Nesbo's pen, a mere bank robbery, even if seemingly unsolvable, is pedestrian. So to compensate, the author spins multiple and apparently disconnected story lines into hapless Harry's investigation and life, resulting in a near epic tale of crime that, while a bit confusing at times, is exactly the kind of convoluted crime mystery that will keep you glued to the pages, scratching your head, and by the end marveling through an expected series of whiplashing twists and Holmes-like deductive reasoning.

So back to those parallel threads. With Harry's beloved Rackel and son Olav off to Moscow to settle an ugly child custody case, Harry reluctantly succumbs to an almost-innocent dinner invitation of Anna, an ex-lover. The next morning, Harry awakes in what is apparently an alcohol-induced blackout with no memory of events of the previous twelve hours. This becomes a rather inconvenient issue when Anna is found dead in her apartment the next morning. While chasing down leads to the bank heist with criminologist Beate Lonn, Harry surreptitiously probes the death of Anna which, while ruled a suicide by the Oslo PD, Harry finds nagging incongruities, keeping them to himself but wanting the truth. While the introverted Beate Lonn pulls critical bank job clues from grainy video, Harry's solo investigative efforts into Anna's death wind their way into the mysterious and potentially deadly gypsy culture, including the most intriguing relationship between cop and incarcerated villain since "Silence of the Lamb's" Clarice Starling sparred with the brilliantly demented Hannibal Lecter.

Nesbo rises above the pack in crime writing with convincing characters and unusual themes, set against an appropriately gritty, dark, and dank Scandinavian backdrop. Hole is the interesting but not uncommon pulp cop - an alcoholic, a loaner an unrepentant maverick, the bane and joy of his beleaguered boss's professional life. But the real magic here is Nesbo's painstaking attention to detail and plot development, a master of foreshadow and deception, hiding critical clues for the reader in the most unlikely places, while building momentum for a climax as cerebral as it was suspenseful.

One final recommendation: if you haven't read any of Nesbo's Harry Hole novels, it would be best to start with "Redbreast", followed by this one, saving "The Devil's Star" for last. While each novel does stand on its own, Nesbo has the fiendishly clever habit of leaving some unfinished threads in each of these tales, so reading them out of sequence can be a bit unsettling. In any event, just do yourself a favor and subject yourself to the not-so-guilty pleasures of this accomplished crime writer.
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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2011
I loved Nemesis! I read the Steig Larson trilogy, and then was lost looking for a series to replace it. I started with Nesbø's "the Snowman." I enjoyed that so much that I decided to read the entire Harry Hole series (pronounced "Hooley;" not "Hole"). The series is somewhat violent (as complained of by another reviewer), but nothing compared to the Larson trilogy. I admit I did not select the books in the correct order, as would have been the logical thing to do, but quite frankly, I was so disappointed that the Larson trilogy was over, and did not know if I would like Nesbø's books enough to get through even one - so I picked the book from his series that sounded the most interesting to me based on the description - and that was "the Snowman." After reading "the Snowman," I quickly learned that Nesbø's first two books in the Harry Hole series have not been translated into English - "Batman" and "Cockroaches" (My guess is that they will be, and I will go back and read those). The next Harry Hole book in order is "the Redbreast" (which I still have not read). Then this book - "Nemesis." Then "The Devil's Star" followed by "The Snowman" and finally "The Redeemer" and "The Leopard" (which are both still not available for the Kindle, but you can get a paperback copy from Amazon for about $17).

I clearly did everything the wrong way - but you know what? It simply did not matter. I read "The Snowman" first, learned about Harry Hole's life in the future, and then went back to his earlier life here in "Nemesis." NO PROBLEM! "Nemesis" starts off with an Oslo bank robbery gone bad resulting in a bank employee's execution. It is all caught on tape. Oslo detective Hole is brought in to work with the robbery team due to his homicide experience. The homicide team is led by Tom Waaler, really Hole's nemesis. Hole can't work well with others - he is just not wired that way. He lacks personal communication skills, is grumpy, and is an alcoholic. Ordinarily I like my heros to be good and my villians to be bad. Despite all of Harry Hole's flaws (which make him real and human), Harry is a hero you can root for. Harry is dealing with the death of his former police partner (and has an urgent need, desire, to investigate the crime but has not been given authority to do so by his superiors), and is dealing with the drama of events involving his girlfriend and her son (her ex is trying to get custody of the boy, and he has some nasty connections that will be hard to compete with). But despite all of the drama, Harry is an excellent detective and he knows how to do his job. Harry ends up working with Beate Lønn, a young female criminalist, who specializes in analyzing video and has the rare special talent of being able to remember every face she has ever seen. Together they are a very unusual and likable team.

To add to everything else that is going on, a personal side drama involving a short-lived relationship with a former girlfriend takes place that potentially will destroy Harry for good - working on the two crimes simultaneously (the bank robbery spree and the crime drama involving the former girlfriend), many twists and turns (including Beate Lønn's own side drama) and departmental drama - makes "Nemesis" a psychologically rich thriller that should satisfy most crime police procedural lovers including Larson fans.

I just bought "the Devil's Star" yesterday and started it reading it - I am 7% of the way through and am thoroughly enjoying it (going forward to the third in the series following "Nemesis" - then I will go back and read "the Redbreast").
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(4.5 stars) More like a fiendish sudoku puzzle than a traditional police procedural, this blockbuster novel, set in Oslo, challenges alcoholic Inspector Harry Hole to find solutions to four cold-blooded murders, which may or may not be related. A "square peg" in the police department, Hole does not hesitate to do things his own way, often infuriating his peers while still inspiring (sometimes grudging) respect for his honesty. A bank robbery in which a gunman executes his female hostage because the bank manager exceeds twenty-five seconds to fill a bag with money is just the start of the non-stop action. As Harry Hole investigates the similarities between this robbery and stunning earlier robberies by Raskol Baxhet, a gypsy now incarcerated, the reader is jerked every which-way, his/her perceptions constantly changing as new information emerges about the characters and the past.

When the video of the bank robbery/murder becomes available, Beate Lonn begins working the case with Harry. Beate is one of only ten people in the world who can remember every face she has ever seen, and Harry becomes her mentor. Both Harry and Beate are grieving--he for the loss of Ellen Gjelten, his partner and friend, murdered while investigating arms-trafficking, and Beate for the loss of her father, a police officer also murdered. Questions remain about both murders. When Harry, one night, accepts an invitation from Anna, a former lover, "for old times' sake," he becomes involved in yet another case--his own.

As Harry and his rivals within the police department work to solve the most recent murders, the author considers the psychology of the characters as much their actions, often switching points of view between paragraphs and scenes. The meticulously constructed plot moves at breakneck pace, and as Nesbo draws in new characters, each of whom has a past to be investigated, he juggles bits and pieces of information--and surprises--which change the direction and focus. The cases become more intertwined and more complex, and "Case Solved" proves time and again to be an illusion. The action moves from Oslo to Brazil and back, from mainstream neighborhoods to gypsy caravans and the Oslo jail, from the police department to the lonely citizens they serve, and from Harry to his long-time love, who is in Russia suing for custody of her son.

The reader's interest grows in Harry Hole, Beate Lonn, and several other characters, and Harry's relationship with jailed Raskol Baxhet, the gypsy robber, is particularly interesting, as he and Baxhet, a master manipulator, alternately despise and respect each other. Ultimately, the reader agrees that "A good manipulator can make you believe that the edge of a 100-kroner note is the edge of a knife." Author Nesbo proves to be a greatest manipulator of all. n Mary Whipple

The Redbreast: A Novel
The Devil's Star
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VINE VOICEon September 29, 2009
In short: there are many reasons to recommend "Nemesis" but it grows convoluted and out of control as the book rolls along.

Having read "Nemesis" without the benefit of knowing what happened in "The Redbreast " (my mistake) I concur with other reviewers who urged reading "The Redbreast" first. There are many strands and relationships to understand and if you have a choice, start with "The Redbreast" if other reviewers are correct. I was in a fog in a few spots.

Still, the first half of "Nemesis" is meaty, rich and packs a punch. There are a few cliché elements to Hole and a bit too much about the bleak weather of Oslo, but the story is gripping and the clues are yanked from the murder and bank-robbery scene with keen tenacity.

During the first half of "Nemesis," I was feeling as if Nesbo might be moving to the top of my list. The pace is grinding, but interesting. It had a Dickensian feel. The scenes are sharply set-up and deliver neat bits of information that kept tugging the plot along. The writing is straightforward (though awkwardly translated at times) but vivid, too. "Astrid Monsen was forty-five years old and made her living by translating French literature in the study of her flat in Sorgenfrigata. She didn't have a man in her life, but she had a tape loop of a dog barking, which she put on at night. Harry heard steps and at least three locks being released behind the door before it opened a fraction and a small, freckled face peered out from beneath black curls."

You come to spots where the action bogs down--a whole paragraph thinking about how a cigarette is made--but Harry Hole's ruminations are also interesting and make him a complete character. When Hole receives permission to run a parallel investigation into the troubling and audacious bank robbery that has left a bank worker dead, you root for him.

And then comes the last stretch, where "Nemesis" blows up. Late in the book, Nesbo ramps up the point of view of the "bad cop" and it seemed to me a bit of a trick, to suddenly be asked to enter the world of a darker, menacing cop. I think I was so invested in Harry Hole that I found myself a bit miffed at being asked to live inside the head of another cop--and so late in the game. The plot grows complicated and I grew weary.
At nearly 500 pages, "Nemesis" is a commitment.

I haven't read much Scandinavian crime fiction--a little Henning Mankell, a little Peter Hoeg--but I'd probably go back to Mankell first.
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on October 18, 2010
Bucky Cantor, a twenty-three year old physical education instructor and weight lifter, runs the Chancellor Avenue playground for the city of Newark in 1944, when a polio epidemic strikes. In the first section of NEMESIS, Bucky, who has a keen sense of duty and personal responsibility, fights back against this epidemic, which he eventually considers to be God's war against the children of Newark. In doing so, he provides normal healthy activities for children, as polio strikes with vicious and deadly randomness. At that time, a respected community figure says to Bucky: "You're contributing. It's important that neighborhood life go on as usual--otherwise, it's not only the stricken and their families who are victims, but Weequahic itself becomes a victim. At the playground, you help keep panic at bay..."

A book with obvious parallels to NEMESIS is the THE PLAGUE, in which a range of characters resists a ruthless and implacable evil, thereby transforming simple conscientious decency into a form of heroism. But in NEMESIS, the young Bucky succumbs to the onslaught of the epidemic, as well as the sexy enticements of his girlfriend, and quits his job at the playground to work as a camp counselor in the Poconos, where there is no polio (and the chance to make out). What Roth examines in NEMESIS is the effects of this decision on Bucky and the deformation that can occur when an unlucky and inflexible person goes against his conscience.

NEMEIS is narrated by Arnie Mesnikoff, a Newark playground boy and a victim of the epidemic. Arnie is an ordinary man and able to live a normal life despite his disabilities. He describes Bucky as "not a brilliant man", "largely humorless", "haunted by an exacerbated sense of duty," and "endowed with little force of mind."

IMHO, this is a risky narrative scheme, since this forces Roth to present an ordinary man's take on a limited man's life. And in Arnie's telling, there's not much nuance and the experiences and choices that life presents to Bucky seem both flat and stark. Only at the conclusion of the book, where readers see what the athletic and confident Bucky possesses in depth, does Arnie display much narrative power. Otherwise, NEMESIS, as told by Arnie, seems heavy-handed and thinly imagined.

This is the fourteenth novel by Philip Roth that I've reviewed on This is the first that is not a rave. Still, recommended if you're a Roth fan.
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