Title: The Redbreast*
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Fiction, crime, Nordic noir, thriller, mystery
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: During President Clinton’s visit in Norway, police officer Harry Hole accidentally shoots a Secret Service Agent. The incident is covered up and Hole is promoted to inspector. He’s assigned the task of monitoring neo-Nazi activities, which is a mundane task until the discovery of a rare and unusual rifle is made. This is followed by several startling leads pointing to neo-Nazi networks and a mysterious contact only known as “the Prince”. Then an old drunk and former soldier is found with his throat slit, and Hole slowly unravels a murder plot dating all the way back to World War II.
* I read this in its original language (Norwegian) under the title “Rødstrupe”.
“Many people believe that right and wrong are fixed absolutes. That is incorrect, they change over time.”
– The Redbreast, Jo Nesbø
I mentioned in my TBR-post earlier this month that I wanted to read all of the books in Nesbø’s Harry Hole-series in order, but so far there are 11 books total, which is a lot. So to make it easier for myself I’ve started with the third book, “The Redbreast”. I can’t say anything about “The Bat” (book 1) or “Cockroaches” (book 2) and what they mean to this book, but I’ve heard from other Nesbø-readers, including this helpful post @ Crime by the Book, that book 3 is a good place to start. I experienced no confusion or problems getting into the story and the characters from here, so I think that was a good decision. The writing is fantastic, Harry Hole reads like a well-rounded and established character, and this book also introduces other significant characters for the first time.
“The Redbreast” alternates between a storyline set during the Second World War and a storyline set in the modern day, and though they seem completely unrelated at first, the two eventually converge. In the first storyline we follow a small group of Norwegian Waffen SS volunteers fighting on the Russian front. The relationships that are established and the events happening here are directly crucial to the second storyline happening several decades later. Detective Harry Hole remains at the heart of this second plot, and gradually pieces together a picture of a revenge story of vast proportions. Besides the police investigation, the book also delves into the occupation of Norway during the Second World War and those people who chose to fight alongside the Nazis. It gives a complex portrait of loyalty and betrayal, of views on right versus wrong, and of young people who ultimately just wanted what was best for their home country and believed that their choice was right. This was a part of the book that I found very interesting.
I really like Harry Hole as a protagonist and as a character. He is the odd one out in the police force and a bit of an anti-hero of sorts; a big, rugged, on-and-off alcoholic guy who uses unorthodox methods. In that sense he’s not really anything unique. A protagonist driven by his inner demons is nothing revolutionary – maybe it’s even a bit clichéd. But although Hole is a loner with a few personal issues he’s not distanced from the reader. There’s still something real and approachable about his entire being that makes him likeable and easy to sympathize with.
As mentioned, the writing in this book is brilliant. I don’t know how this reads in translation, but Nesbø’s writing really is excellent. The descriptions are simple but effective, painting a vivid and sometimes gritty picture of Oslo city in particular, and the dialogue is casual and effortless. Dialogue written in Norwegian tend to sound a bit odd and stilted to me, probably because I usually read so many books in English that I’m simply not used to it, but Nesbø just makes it flow so naturally.
Another thing Nesbø is excellent at is plotting. The story seems a bit fragmented in the beginning, but it picks up rather quickly and you’ll see how nicely everything eventually comes together. The plot is a bit slow-moving at times, and sometimes things do seem a little bit too convenient, but all my guesses were ultimately wrong and I honestly didn’t see any of the plot twists coming. Add to this a small but not irrelevant piece of Hole’s personal life and you’ve got a very engaging and immersive detective novel. There are also loose threads that remain unresolved, as they’re known only to the reader but not to Harry Hole. I assume these will re-emerge in the next book, “Nemesis”.
Overall this was an intriguing read that definitely convinced me to continue the series, and “The Redbreast” does seem like a good place to start if you’re curious about the series or haven’t read anything by this author before. I guess many crime fiction fans already have read this series, but if you want a great example of Nordic noir set in the bleakness of Oslo city with a protagonist who’s easy to sympathize with, then I recommend this one!