Sunday, October 9, 2011
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
The novel opens in 2000 with police officer Harry being assigned to security duty when the US president is visiting Oslo. At first I thought okay, this is pretty typical thriller fare. Events take a very dramatic turn when Harry accidentally shoots a Secret Service agent, mistaking him for an assassin. The political fallout has the unexpected consequence of Harry being promoted to Inspector but he is forced to leave his old unit, and given an out-of-way post. Harry finds himself tracking down an unusual rifle, that he suspects of being imported into the country to kill a high ranking target. The investigation has Harry trying to piece together a mystery that involves modern day Neo-Nazis, but originated in WWII and the Nazi occupation of Norway.
The action switches between Harry and a group of Norwegian soldiers fighting on the German side in WWII. We learn of the relationships between these men and a mysterious death that divides them. One of the highlights of the novel, and a fantastic counterbalance for all of the action, is a romance between one of the Norwegian solders and a nurse he meets while recuperating from a shrapnel wound. This might sound cheesy but it is completely convincing, and very poignant. The echoes of this doomed love story reverberate strongly in the modern day investigation.
There is a lot of interesting information about Norway during WWII, all of which was new to me, and I love fiction with a WWII theme. The plot is very intricate, in the war years, and in 2000 with Harry, with characters intersecting all over the place. I think the reason Nesbo is able to make this work, is by playing up the human factor as well. There is subtlety in the characters responses and interactions, and the action and mystery have a solid emotional foundation, which for me, made the convoluted plot seem worthwhile. I found myself really involved with these characters. And I think that is the point where a thriller, or crime novel, is elevated to something else entirely. Nesbo had me eating out of the palm of his hand.
Readers of this blog may be aware that I am a bit partial to the Scandinavian crime writers. And for me, at least for now, Nesbo is king.