Phantom (Harry Hole #9), by Jo Nesbø

Nine stars

Building on the chaos of the previous novel, Nesbø leaves readers wondering how the series will continue without Harry Hole. It’s been three years since Hole left for Hong Kong, and Oslo has undergone many changes. When a tall, lanky man checks-in at the Hotel Leon, the clerk cannot help but wonder if he’s come face to face with the ever-talked about Harry Hole. Propelled back into the mix when he learns that he son of a woman he’s loved for ages is under arrest for murder, Hole resurfaces to get the truth and find the killer. After learning that Oleg has turned to a life of drugs, Hole must piece the story together and disprove what the authorities feel is an airtight case. Oslo is no longer the city that Hole remembers, with junkies and pushers no longer offering cheap heroin, but a new and more potent fix, Violin. Harry meets Oleg in prison and hears his side of the story, learning that he and Gusto Hanssen, the victim, have been recruited into a drug ring that has control of the city and its narcotics distribution. It becomes evident that there’s been a scapegoat put in place and that someone up the drug chain is trying to keep Oleg from spilling too much, which is supported when the young man is attacked in his cell after Hole leaves him. Working with Oleg’s lawyer, Hans Christian, Hole determines that there is a larger web of informants, some of whom populate the Oslo PD, with whom Hole no longer is associated. As Hole garners more information, he tries to bring the PD on board, but they choose to handle things they own way, forcing Hole to use his contacts and work on the sly. Hole is able to penetrate the core of the massive drug ring and to come face-to-face with its head, someone that no one can confirm having met, who meanders around as though he were a Phantom of sorts. By the time Hole gathers all the evidence, he comes to a crossroads, meeting the killer head on, where only one will survive. Has Hole sipped his last Jim Beam, especially now that he does not have the backing of the Oslo PD? A stunning look into Oslo’s underbelly and Harry Hole’s determination. Not to be missed by Hole fans, no matter the excuse.

Nesbø proves his abilities yet again with this powerful novel and role in which Hole plays to keep it moving forward. Exploring not only Oslo’s drug trade business, but also offering up an insight into the movement of drugs around Scandinavia and their chemical creation, Nesbø brings the reader into the heart of the matter. Also, working with a protagonist who is outside looking in proves harder in a police thriller, but Harry Hole captures the hearts of all readers and propels the story forward, doing what he does best while keeping the book from being a one-man vigilante plot. Using a variety of characters, some well-known to the reader and others new to the scene, Nesbø creates an effective story that pulls the reader in and will not let go until the true killer is revealed in ways that only Hole could do effectively. As well as touching on the issues on the streets, the story forecasts the added fallout to layers of corruption at the top, which Hole cannot ignore and about which the reader relishes to learn. Using his honed technique of alternate narratives, Nesbø offers not only the progression of the story, but a tale through the eyes of the victim (as well as one of a rat whose importance is revealed late in the novel). With one novel left in the series, it is exciting to see where Nesbø will take everyone, and how it will all tie off.

Kudos Mr. Nesbø for an exciting series to date. I keep telling myself the ideas will end, but you seem to have new and exciting plots constantly on a slow boil.