Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The Redbreast (2006 English translation) is by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, and it is a cracker.  This is the third in the Harry Hole series.  I have not read the first two in the series and it did not seem to matter in terms of my enjoyment or understanding.

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.


  1. I haven't read anything by Jo Nesbo yet, but I do usually seem to enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction so maybe I should try one of his books. It's good to know that I should be able to understand this one without starting at the beginning of the series.

  2. I just finished this and ended up liking it more than I thought I would when I started it. I really struggled with it in the beginning, and it took me some time to "bond" with Harry. I was thinking I wouldn't continue on with the Harry Hole books but ended up liking it enough to go on. I heard that they get better and better so I'm optimistic. I didn't know that stuff about Norway and WWII either.

  3. Yes all the people who come into the used bookshop and used to ask for Stieg Larsson are now asking for Nesbo.

    Great review :)

  4. I've never heard of Nesbo before, but this sounds like a fascinating read. WWII Norway sounds like a great setting, and I'd like to see how it all turns out. Must check this one out.

  5. shereadsnovels - I don't think you would be disappointed Helen, he write like a dream :)

    Jenners - agreed, Harry is a bit of a cold fish. I have come to expect that with all of the Scandinavian detectives.

    TheBookGirl - Many thanks! I prefer Nesbo's style to Larsson. I found the violence in Larsson's first book almost too much for me. Nesbo does not seem to have to go there.

    Darlyn - It does have alot of interesting back story, and the denouement is dramatic and satisfying.


Comments are very welcome.