on 20 July 2014
I'm fairly new to Jo Nesbo and, having been extremely impressed with 'The Son', I decided to read through all of the Nesbo books in chronological order. Other reviewers seem to feel that the earlier books; 'The Bat' and 'Cockroaches' were inferior to the later works but I thoroughly enjoyed both, so I looked forward to getting into the next three books set out in 'The Oslo Trilogy'.
I can see why these three books are set as a trilogy as they do, indeed, follow a common thread through them all, with one of the main villains only getting his just rewards at the end of the last book, 'The Devil's Star'.
'The Redbreast' is unlike any other Jo Nesbo that I've read so far in that the story switches, constantly, between modern day Oslo and the Eastern front of 1944, and a very effective device this is too. All of the characters have highly complex and interlocking stories and features and the plot line is as convoluted and complex as any Jeffery Deaver novel. Speaking of other authors, the late James A. Mitchener used a device of 'resonance' in his stories frequently, to echo the same plot line in different time periods. Nesbo does that here too as, in both time periods, there are women, mother and daughter, forced into sexual compromise by powerful bosses. The 'reveal' is excellent as it seems that Harry has, indeed, been hunting a genuinely dead man who is now going around killing people. And if you want to solve that riddle, you'll have to read the book! Some of the niggles that I've had with the other Nesbo books are here too. For example, Harry's love affair with Rakel is a bit far fetched (powerful, strong and 'damaged' woman, sworn off men and highly protective of her only child, falls for the alcoholic, vomit reeking, policeman). And then there's the guns again. As with the earlier books, the choice of weapons, so clinically described in great technical detail, jars in its incongruity. In this novel, the apparent assassin moves heaven and earth to obtain 'the best assassin's rifle in the world' and, indeed, this gun becomes almost like a character in its own right. The problem is that the gun in question is a Marklin rifle, a gun that is very rare because it was obsolete even when it was first created. The Marklin was a victim of history, being a 'falling block' weapon at a time when that mechanism was being replaced by far superior mechanisms. It only accepted a huge 16mm cartridge that is almost impossible to find and is massively expensive (£90 every time you pull the trigger). And finally, why would an assassin use an inferior weapon that is almost certain to get him noticed when there are far better rifles that would allow him to maintain his anonymity? Niggles aside, I found this to be a totally engrossing and well written novel and a great lead into the next in the trilogy.
The second in the trilogy, 'Nemesis' is just as convoluted as the first and is equally good. Once again, there is a genuine surprise in the 'reveal' yet it all makes sense. Yet again, guns play a major part in this story (one of the trilogy threads is about illegal importation of guns into Oslo) and, by now, Jo Nesbo seems to be trying harder to get it right but still falls short. Mr Nesbo seems to think that quoting the exact reference for a weapon makes it authoritative when, in fact, it is usually just confusing. In this case a Beretta M92F is described as a 'highly unusual gun' when, in fact, as the standard issue for many military personnel throughout the world, including every American soldier, it is one of the most commonly seen handguns around. Then, a villainous thug, portrayed as a little on the stupid side, selects, as his weapon of choice, a Taurus PT92C pistol which is an excellent weapon; a stupid thug in backwater Brazil gets a fantastic weapon? An improvement on the weapons front, Mr Nesbo, but a long way to go yet.
The final part of the trilogy, 'The Devil's Star' concludes the threads well and, once again, the 'reveal' is quite spectacular in its complexity and surprise. Unlike the other books, there are a couple of plot devices that stretch credulity to the limit, such as the hiding place for one of the bodies and a few of the other gory facts too, but I can't comment further without a spoiler. And, hurray, Mr Nesbo gets the weaponry just right for the characters!
Having read the first five books now, a few common threads are emerging from Mr Nesbo's work. On the positive side, each book is brilliant in its intricately constructed plot and has a 'reveal' that I defy any reader to foresee. They are all populated with well rounded and plausible characters and the flow of the story is faultlessly well paced. Read as a stand alone novel, each is a compellingly brilliant read. Each story is different. Yet each is the same! In every story:-
The graphic detail of Harry's alcohol addiction is presented again and again.
Harry meets and develops a relationship with an implausibly attractive woman, despite his many flaws.
That woman either dies or is placed in extreme jeopardy (it's not healthy to be Harry Hole's girlfriend!).
Harry has help from an impossibly gifted colleague (master cyber hacker or who can recognise every face ever seen).
The reader is guided to an apparent end when the villain is, apparently, revealed.
Just before the end, it is revealed that the apparent villain isn't the real villain at all and Harry has to battle for justice.
There is a confrontation between Harry and the villain as a result of which the villain is killed.
Harry is promoted by some bureaucratic quirk.
I love these stories but I do hope that the next one, 'The Redeemer' doesn't follow this formulaic process.