Police by Jo Nesbø
Police by Jo Nesbø (Alfred A Knopf, 2013) (translated by Dan Bartlett) is Harry Hole’s tenth outing and it starts with our hero missing. It’s perhaps not inappropriate to remind people that Harry was shot at the end of Phantom, the last book. Obviously, unless we’re suddenly to veer into the territory occupied by “detectives” who have crossed over and now guide investigations from beyond, we’re forced to assume our hero will turn up sooner or later. This is a rather pleasing coup de théâtre. The absence reminds us that no-one is indispensable. The world continues to turn and things still get done even though the “key person” is AWOL. And so it proves here. The remnants of the Boiler Room team actually make reasonably good progress on their own. Except, of course, that progress is not enough on its own in such a high-profile and complicated case. So, in the end, the team is forced to rely on its hole card (sorry, I’ve been waiting to write that for years) to win the pot and tidy up the current mystery. So who’s in play?
Well, as you might expect, consulting psychologist Stale Aune is back in private practice. Without Harry to include and inspire him, the drudgery of each day’s sequence of clients depresses his spirits. A particularly difficult client compounds the looming existential despair with dream sequences based on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. Perhaps something in the lyrics is significant. Poor man! Does our expert actually have to listen to the music to crack the case and make a diagnosis? Then there’s Gunnar Hagen. He’s still head of the squad but having increasing problems with the new police chief Mikael Bellman. Fortunately, the latter’s childhood friend Truls “Beavis” Berntsen is on suspension so there are not quite as many disruptions as there have been in the past. Which leaves us with special detective Katrine Bratt, Beate Lonn, she of the magic eyes and eidetic memory to remember faces, and Bjorn Holm the forensics officer who can’t perform the same miracles as CSI but always manages to come up with interesting titbits of information.
This time around, we’re dealing with a cop killer. This crime is viewed as an exceptional by the police and, in defence of their reputation, they devote exceptional resources to solving it. This killer is particularly provocative because the victims are killed on the anniversaries of the murder cases they failed to solve. It seems this killer is taking revenge for the victims whose murderers have never been brought to book. Yet this may not be the right motive. Those of you who read police procedurals will know the key elements in the investigation focus on motive and opportunity. At first sight, it doesn’t appear there are any connections between the different murders. Then there’s a hint there may be a common denominator person. There’s just the one problem. He seems to have been killed in his cell in prison. Ah happy days. It’s this type of problem that makes reading police procedurals/murder mysteries such a delight. Then we add into the mix the general development of the series characters, one of these unfortunate allegations of impropriety by an older lecturer against a female student, and unfinished business from the last book.
The result is a delightfully complicated and thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed as we move closer the end and the morality gets a little blurry, we get into some very nice discussion of Harry Hole’s personality. Just what’s been driving him in potentially self-destructive directions and can anything be done to keep him on the straight and narrow (and still capable of solving crimes)? The answers are fascinating, and although there’s a slightly convenient way in which he avoids crossing over the line (again), the thriller tension is ratcheted up most effectively as we close in on the solution and the aftermath. There’s also a delightfully macabre hook left for the next in series. It shows an elegantly provocative mind at work to leave us poor readers on this note. Overall, Police shows Jo Nesbø on top form, delivering yet another powerful page-turner.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.