The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett

Harry Hole book 3

Source: library copy

This is the first Harry Hole book I’ve read and the earliest book in the series to be translated into English.  The first book in the series, The Bat, is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on October 9, 2012 according to Amazon.  I’ve been meaning to read Nesbø for awhile now (The Snowman has been sitting on my shelf for a year), and I’m glad I dove into this book.

The Redbreast begins with Harry assigned to protect the President of the United States on a trip to Norway.  After he shoots someone, he’s quickly reassigned and has a solitary job monitoring neo-Nazi groups.  Abruptly, the story jumps to World War II scenes, specifically a group of Norwegians who fought with the Germans against the Russians.  The two stories converge, of course.

First, missing out on the first two books in the series that have not yet been published in the United States did not feel like a hindrance to me.  We learn early on that Harry had a rough case or two, specifically a shooting in Bangkok, that sent him into an alcoholic spiral.  That seems to be sufficient backstory for someone new to the series.  Tougher for me, however, was the slightly confusing battle sequences in the first hundred pages or so.  I’m not a huge fan of war novels or miniseries, and the chaos and confusion of the battle is the point of the early scenes, but it makes for a bit of rough go reading-wise.  Thankfully, the rest of the story has a pretty brisk pace, and we learn more and more about the early war scenes and the people who lived them.

I think one of Nesbø’s strengths is his characters.  Hole sounds like the troubled cop I’ve seen in plenty of other novels, but he doesn’t feel like a cliche.  He has a close colleague, Ellen, with whom he has a great working relationship.  He has a sense of humor (Shania Twain music driving him crazy).  He gets his drinking under control from time to time.  The ancillary characters felt fleshed out too, except for one hateful bureaucrat.

My only quibble with the book is that the resolution of the plot is pretty convoluted, but I may be saying that because I had a difficult time getting into the wartime characters and their desertions or presumed desertions.  I look forward to other books in the series, though I’ve heard they’re a mixed bag.

11 thoughts on “The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

  1. I like the cover on the version you read, the one on the UK edition I read was nothing like as nice. I agree that the plot is convoluted and the battle scenes hard to keep straight, ie who was supposed to be on whose side! But I really love the depiction of Harry in this book, and the poignancy of the relationship he has with his colleague.

    Redbreast is first of a loose trilogy within the series, the other two are Nemesis and The Devil’s Star. I recommend reading them next because of Harry’s character development over these books – he gets to know a very significant character much better, who makes a brief appearance in Redbreast, and he solves the crime that’s left outstanding in Redbreast (the one personal to him) over these 2 books.

    I don’t think, from what I have heard, we have missed a great deal by not being able to read the first two books yet. One is set in Australia. I’ve heard from a reliable source that they are not as mature or interesting as the later books.

    • Thanks for the information about the first two books, Maxine. I always wonder if I should make the short drive to Canada to pick up books published earlier, but in this case, I think I’ll go on with the series instead of waiting until October for the first book to be published.

      Re: the U.S. cover. This picture didn’t include the “If you loved Stieg Larsson, you’ll love The Redbreast!!” sticker. Least helpful marketing information ever.

  2. Rebecca – Thanks for this thoughtful review. I agree with you about the war scenes. They aren’t my favourite part of the novel either. Much better depicted in my opinion is the Harry Hole character whom we see not just through his own eyes but through the eyes of others in the story. I think his character is nicely developed even in this particular novel and the other Harry Hole novels do that over time too.

    • Margot: I usually skim war scenes, which probably added to my confusion in this book. I’m looking forward to more Harry Hole (me and millions of others).

  3. It’s interesting to read the views of someone completely new to Nesbo. I liked him very much for a long time and I still enjoy the books but they have begun to pall a little and I have found other stuff I like to read more. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed ‘Redbreast’ at the time so thanks for reminding me.

  4. I only read this recently & it was also my first Nesbo and confess that I wasn’t really taken with it. I quite like Harry, but not sure that it would be worth wading through another long & convoluted story just to read about him. I have to wonder how some modern writiers would manage if they had to stick to he page count of an 1950’s Penguin!

    • I liked Nemesis quite a bit more than Redbreast, but it has a bit of a slow start as well. I’ve heard enough good things about other books in the series so I’ll try Devil’s Star as well.

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