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.

1222 by Anne Holt

1222 is the story of a train that crashes en route from Oslo to Bergen at an elevation on 1222 meters in the village of Finse.   The survivors are evacuated to a hotel named, descriptively enough, Finse 1222, and they are holed up there fo ra few days, during which time two men are murdered.  One hundred and ninety-six people live in relative comfort in the main hotel building as the story begins. This story is very much in the vein of a locked room Agatha Christie mystery, as the author has acknowledged, but this is a Norwegian version.  For readers who are a bit leery of the gruesomeness of some Scandinavian crime novels, this book is a relief:  the murders happen off-stage.
The investigator is Hanne Willhelmsen, a retired detective who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury when she was shot by the corrupt police chief she was investigating.  She has been off the force for four years, and in those four years she has become more and more of a loner who spends time only with her partner, their young daughter, and the live-in housekeeper. Her three days in the hotel are not only her return to investigating homicides, but also her return to interacting with other humans.  She’s prickly but interesting, and she’s definitely not a cliché.
What Holt does well is capture the group mood during their unforeseen stay in a remote mountain hotel during an extreme blizzard.  Willhelmsen and an impromptu team of investigators—a doctor, a lawyer, and the hotel manager—bond as they investigate the two murders, at first trying to keep the murders a secret by claiming that the first victim “suffered a brain aneurysm,” instead of a bullet wound to the head.  It’s a claustrophobic story of course, with the worsening storm outside.  Besides the inquiry into the homicides,there is a parallel story about the mysterious final train compartment.  Its occupants were evacuated first, and they occupy a wing that is guarded by armed men.
I admit that I don’t read many locked room mysteries—or at least I haven’t lately—but 1222 stands out with its characters.  Holt provides enough back story for not only the victims and perpetrators, but also with Hanne Willhelmsen, of course, and Magnus Streng, the doctor who suffers from dwarfism who becomes as close of a friend as Hanne will allow herself. This book is the eighth in the Hanne Willhelmsen series, and I am looking forward to previous novels in the series being translated into English.

1222 by Anne Holt
Scribner
Publication date: December 27, 2011
Source: Publisher via NetGalley