Sunday, February 15, 2015

the last book I read

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but: Harry Hole is an uncompromising maverick Norwegian cop. Han spiller ikke etter boka, men av Gud han får resultater.

So, the checklist. Recovering (and occasionally relapsing) alcoholic? Check. Broken marriage and strained relationship with ex-spouse and child? Check. Succession of police partners getting offed messily in the course of investigations? Check. Vexed relationship with more "orthodox" police superiors? Check. But, dammit, results, etc.? You betcha.

So when Robert Karlsen, a senior Salvation Army officer and pillar of the Oslo community, is executed in a very public way by a mysterious assassin at a pre-Christmas carol singalong and heroin addict soup handout, it's Harry Hole who gets the job of investigating. One of the first things he discovers is that despite the gunman having been in the plain view of several people, no-one seems to be able to remember or agree what his face looks like.

Things soon get a lot more complicated: it soon transpires that a) the actual target of the hit was Robert's brother Jon Karlsen and b) the killer has worked out he's shot the wrong man and is sticking around to try to finish the job. So Harry has to simultaneously protect Jon from being bumped off and find out who the killer is and why he's got it in for the Karlsen brothers, on the face of it both paragons of religiously-inspired moral rectitude and charitable selflessness.

Oh, come off it, you'll be saying at this point: we all know that religious sects, even one as apparently upstanding as the Sally Army, are hotbeds of repressed (and not-so-repressed) sexual perversity and operate an internal code of silence to keep their nasty little secrets from ever seeing the light of day. So it's only a matter of time before some unspeakable shit comes floating to the surface. And, to be fair, we already know this, as there was a sort of flashback prologue featuring an un-named 14-year-old girl at a Salvation Army retreat being raped in an outside toilet by an un-named man, but, we're invited to infer, someone who we've probably already met in the "present day" part of the narrative.

Harry tracks down the hitman's boss (who also turns out to be his mother) to Zagreb, where she reveals that the person she was engaged by to organise the hit was (drum roll) Robert Karlsen himself. But why would Robert want to have Jon killed? Cherchez la femme, perhaps? Is it something to do with Jon's girlfriend Thea? Or fellow Salvation Army officer (and possible love interest for Harry) Martine? Or is it something to do with Sofia, the young Croatian girl who lives in the block of flats that's the subject of a complex (and quite possibly crooked) property deal involving Jon Karlsen?

Well, I won't lay out the full plot details here, not least because I'm not entirely sure I understood them myself. The very basic version is: Jon Karlsen posed as Robert Karlsen in order to go to Zagreb to take out a hit on Jon Karlsen (i.e. himself) in order to then swap soup-ladling shifts with Robert and engineer his killing in his (Jon's) place. It turns out being a high-ranking Salvation Army officer doesn't stop you from being a psychopathic serial rapist and cop-murderer with an interesting sideline in sucking people's eyes out with a hoover attachment. Needless to say our elusive Croatian friend is a multiple killer as well, but given the choice of sparing his life or Jon's at Oslo airport Harry decides to let him go.

The Redeemer is the sixth novel to feature detective Harry Hole, but there's no particular need to have read its predecessors (I certainly haven't) to "get" this one. It's very much in the Scandi-noir genre which also features Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson in the book genre and things like The Killing on TV, and is still clearly big business judging by the amount of hype and the stellar cast lavished on the current Sky Atlantic offering Fortitude. Concentrating on the books, since I haven't seen any of the TV stuff, I think The Redeemer is probably more exciting than Faceless Killers, and better-written and less silly than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its successors. That said, it's 562 pages long, and some of the sub-plot about Jon's property dealings could probably have been left out without detracting from the overall effect very much (a bit like all that stuff about toilets in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest). It's good, though: I'm not about to rush out and buy all of them, but I wouldn't rule out dipping in again in future. The bottom line is that I wanted to find out what was going to happen next, which is the highest compliment available in the thriller genre.

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