I’ll admit that when I read Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbø’s first novel to be translated into English, The Redbreast, I was a bit ambivalent about it. It had gotten such high praise, and yet, I found the novel’s dependence on backstory and flashbacks a little overdone. (This is untypical for me, by the way. As a rule, I am very much in favor of backstory. But in this case, I felt like it overwhelmed the plot progression.) However, what I loved about the novel was its detective, Harry Hole, and its subplot, which dealt with an evil police officer who was involved in gun smuggling and other nefarious activities and also went by The Prince because, well, he listened to a whole lot of Prince (as in The Artist Formerly Known As…).
Because I enjoyed Hole and that unresolved evil cop plot line so much, I decided to read and review the newest English translation in Nesbø’s series, The Devil’s Star. And honestly, it was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read recently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a little grotesque at times (in a creepy, goosebumpy, but still giggly-gross sort of way). But as a serial-killer novel goes, this one is great fun and really well done. There’s a passage which I found so subtle and cleverly executed (no pun intended) that I actually went into work the next day and read it out loud to my coworker. I won’t spoil it, suffice to say that the killer walks into a building and is seen by his next victim, but she simply notices him in the natural course of her normal observations. So the reader is given the opportunity to recognize the killer, but doesn’t realize it until about a chapter and a half later. I read a lot of crime novels and I am frequently able to Spot-the-Killer. But my hat’s off to Nesbø here, because the murderer got right past me, too.
I reviewed The Devil’s Star for Reviewing the Evidence (a name which I still find extremely clever for a crime and mystery fiction site). You can read the review there, or read the full text below.
Oh, and for anyone who lives in New York City, Jo Nesbø will be attending a book release party and signing at Idlewild books this coming Monday, March 15th. Details are on their website, here. The New York Times also just published a brief interview with him on their Paper Cuts blog.
Update, Thurs. March 18: Detectives Beyond Borders has posted the beginning of a two-part interview with Nesbø on their site. He discusses Jim Thompson, The Rolling Stones, and Canada. Definitely worth checking out.
Jo Nesbø’s The Devil’s Star opens in the middle of a sweltering summer heatwave in Oslo. A young woman has been found murdered in her shower. A finger on her hand has been severed and a red diamond shaped like a pentagram found under her eyelid. When, days later, another woman disappears and her severed finger is sent to police headquarters, the Oslo police find themselves chasing a serial killer who manages to slip in and out of homes, busy streets, and public places without ever being observed. The gruesome case is assigned to two of Oslo’s most accomplished detectives: Harry Hole, who has spent most of the summer on a world-class bender, and Tom Waaler, Hole’s most reviled adversary and the man he believes is responsible for the murder of his partner, Ellen Gjelten (an event which took place in The Redbreast).
Readers already familiar with Nesbø’s alcoholic, chain-smoking, deeply haunted but brilliantly talented Harry Hole will find the reticent detective much where they left him in previous installments of the series—bent on his own self-destruction, but still not completely able to turn his back on police work. Since his partner’s death, Hole has become increasingly obsessed with proving that the well-respected Waaler is responsible, conducting a vigilante investigation which has devastated his relationship with his girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg, whom he has come to look on as a son. Moreover, Hole’s constant absences from work, lack of professionalism, and whiskey-soaked sprees have pushed even Crime Squad Chief Inspector Bjarne Møller—Hole’s most constant defender—to request his dismissal from the police force. Hole’s experience tracking down a serial killer make him a valuable addition to the current investigation, but it might well be his last.
Although The Devil’s Star is the fifth installment in the Harry Hole series (the third to be translated into English), readers unfamiliar with these novels would be well-advised to start here. Nesbø deftly introduces Hole’s ample backstory and integrates his antagonistic relationship with the insidious Waaler extremely well with the rest of the novel’s plot. As for the serial killer set-up—even those who tire of this narrative device will likely be drawn into the investigation. Nesbø cleverly integrates the murderer into the fabric of the story so as to give the reader clues to who the person is, but the eventual denouement —almost operatic in its grotesque reveal—will surely create some surprise in even the most jaded readers.
The Devil’s Star is a standout installment in the already monumentally popular Harry Hole series. With Hole back on an upswing at the novel’s end—sober and somewhat redeemed among his peers and loved ones—it’s anyone’s guess where Nesbø will take his dynamic anti-hero next.