Nesbø brings the Harry Hole series to a close with a thriller that keeps readers focussed until the final sentence. After the vague, yet horrible, end to the previous novel, the complete cast of characters remains in shock about how the Oslo Crime Squad will continue. When a number of police officers are murdered after returned to crime scenes of previously unsolved cases, there’s a struggle between the Squad and Kripos (the national police organisation) as to who will handle things. Newly-appointed Chief of Police, Mikael Bellman, defers to the national authorities, though does permit a loose collection of Squad members to run a covert investigation. Leaderless now, with Hole’s seat empty, the team tries to piece things together, with little success. Lingering over them is the Gusto Hanssen case, crux of the previous novel, which remains unsolved, though many feel Hole knew how it all came together. Some key players in the scheme, from criminals through to Bellman and his lackey, remain on high alert, as their futures could hang in the balance if such news were shared. As the Squad limps along, trying to solve the police murder, they face a devastating reality, and are hit with tragedy. At this point, they can no longer work alone. Harry Hole, now a full-time instructor at the Police Academy, is called upon to help as a consultant. Hole is tepid in his acceptance, but needs a distraction as he is badgered by an overly flirtatious student who cries wolf when things do not go her way. Hole works as best he can and traces down a few leads, with a focus on the killer from the original crimes, most of whom have a strong sexual component to them. Alibis preclude an easy arrest and the Squad is forced to return to the drawing board, with little to show for their work. As Hole is wont to do, he finds a thread and pulls, which causes everything to unravel to its bare basics and offers new insights that the Squad had not seen beforehand. With a Cop Killer on the loose, other storylines also ramp up, leaving the reader to split their interest along a few developing narratives. With nothing to lose, will Hole end his time as Nesbø’s protagonist on a winning note, or will the Crime Squad disappear onto the literary horizon with more unanswered questions and force readers to extrapolate on their own? Brilliant work, told in such a way that no Nesbø fan could complain.
Nesbø is a master at picking up where he leaves off, not always letting the reader breathe before pushing the drama that ended the previous novel into the forefront. His insinuations, at multiple points in the book, leave the reader to wonder what if rather than knowing how things will play out. Nesbø’s use of a sizeable character base allows multiple plots to develop without straining realistic expectations of those he uses as vessels to guide the narrative. Harry Hole may be central, but Nesbø shows how the story can progress without him, at least for a period, while installing fear and loathing in the reader. That the series had to come to an end is inevitable, though Harry Hole had an excellent run. With new and disturbing addictions or dark pathways, Hole remains a man with a number of struggles for which he has not found an answer. This ever-evolving character exemplifies how Nesbø is able to hold onto his ‘Master of the Art’ title without much opposition by readers.
When I began this Harry Hole journey, I was not sure what to expect. On the one hand, I love a good police procedural, particularly one that takes place outside of the normal ‘North American’ or ‘British-centric’ locales that many of the novels I have read find themselves developing. On the other, there is always a gamble to be taken when reading a collection of novels that were written in a language other than English. The translator must be stellar, as they represent the author’s ideas. As my Norwegian is as rusty as it could ever be, I relied on a translation and the hype Harry Hole had received to see if things could develop into an addictive for me. Like Harry Hole and bottle of Jim Beam, they did and I was ensconced in the series from the early stages. While it took three books to pull the story into Norway, once things got moving, there was no end to the wonders Nesbø placed before the reader. That Hole is an effective detective is even more surprising, based on the addictions and dark side he undertakes throughout the series. As I have mentioned at numerous points in past reviews, the alcoholism and drug abuse seem only to heighten Hole’s abilities, while pulling the reader into the dark world of drugs on Oslo’s streets. With a successful trilogy built into the larger series, Nesbø keeps the reader hooked and wanting more. Hole’s ongoing love interests seem to flit across the page, though Rakel’s emergence with her son Oleg remain a storyline that Nesbø does not end and Hole relies upon, no matter what he is doing. I cannot say enough about this series, this author, or the fact that Scandinavian crime novels seem better than much of the genre that is written in English at the outset.
Kudos Mr. Nesbø for a powerful piece to end the series. I have found a new favourite author and will recommend this series to anyone who will listen.