Pity Harry Hole, the Oslo detective who has tracked mankind’s most murderous creatures through nine books by Norway’s Jo Nesbo. His reward: Getting gunned down at the end of last year’s “Phantom.”
As a consequence, Harry is missing from the first third of “Police,” the new novel by Nesbo, a former stockbroker and rock ’n’ roll singer who started writing during a respite from life in the financial world.
Don’t worry. There’s plenty of violence as “Police” kicks off. As an unidentified man clings to life in Norway’s National Hospital, investigators are being lured to the scene of unsolved crimes and killed in entertainingly grisly ways.
One cop meets his doom with a car’s emergency brake punched through his mouth and out the back of his head. Another is hooked, headfirst, onto a ski lift, leaving a trail of crimson to spatter the slope. A third is chopped up, dumped into plastic bags and then set out by the curb to await the hydraulic compression of the garbage truck.
The gang’s all here, explaining the book’s title. Nefarious top policeman Mikael Bellman and his appalling sidekick, Truls “Beavis” Berntsen, do their best to obstruct the investigation, aiming to protect their own sordid secrets. Police stalwarts Beate Lonn, Bjorn Holm and the more-than-somewhat-unhinged Katrine Bratt play key roles.
It’s not just violent. Subplots include a carefully observed, politically expedient extramarital affair (a bedspread is made of reindeer skin). Psychiatrist Stale Aune’s latest patient spends a bit too much time discussing Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Many more will die, including characters who have soldiered through multiple earlier volumes. Others will be falsely accused before the mystery of Harry’s disappearance is solved, as we know it will be.
“Perhaps he’s becoming a legend, after all,” one character notes of the missing policeman early on in the book.
Perhaps. Perhaps this will be a new Harry, on the wagon at last after years of heavy boozing and the consumption of myriad illegal substances. Perhaps this rebooted detective won’t, for once, involve his longtime love, Rakel, and more or less adopted son, Oleg, in the danger and terror of his daily life.
Fat chance. This is a Harry Hole thriller. Yes, it’s dark. Yes it’s thoughtful. Yes, it has plot twists worthy of a Mobius strip. But there will be room for an attractive, and brutally crazy, female stalker. Not to mention a character who is told, “No one can hear you, but if you yell like that I’ll have to tape up your mouth as well.”
Can it get any darker? Well, yes: A major character even experiences a rape fantasy (which he never actually enacts). By book’s end, one could be forgiven for wondering whether there’s much in the realm of human cruelty, or psychopathic psychiatry (this is Norway, after all) left for Nesbo to explore.
“Police” is published by Knopf in the U.S. and Harvill Secker in the U.K. (436 pages, $25.95, 18.99 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Alec D.B. McCabe is an editor at Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Zinta Lundborg on books.