Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbø (trade, $14.99) (c2000, trans. from Norwegian)

This Norwegian novel has won a number of awards. Mr. Nesbø has created a dark Scandanavian police procedural to rival those of Sweden's Sjöwall/Wahlöö and Henning Mankell.

The setup is rather lengthy; it wasn't until page 200 that things got going. The whole book is a hefty 500+ pages, but there is no wasted motion after page 200. In fact, I found that first part rather tedious, as the author switches between a 1942 WWII story and one set in 1999 (the book came out in 2000), but I have no complaints about what comes after. And, I admit it, that first part is necessary to understand the murderer's psyche.

In brief, several Norwegian men fight on the side of Germany and Hitler in WWII. Some may have defected, or not. Some may have murdered each other, or not. Something heroic may have occurred, or not. A wounded soldier and a nurse fall in love. All these threads have repercussions for the contemporary stories. In 1999, an old man is facing his own imminent demise and decides that he must avenge old wrongs. Men and women, ones who have something to do with that WWII group, begin to die.

Harry Hole is a drunkard with emotional baggage from a prior case which is mentioned but never elucidated. He is a homicide inspector who, to correct an unfortunate mistake, is promoted to the POT, which I gather is an FBI-type organization and one which no longer exists in Norway. He is assigned the task of monitoring neo-Nazi activities. Nazism is the common thread tying together the WWII story and the contemporary storylines. Plural. There are a couple of cases Hole is either assigned or takes upon himself to handle. We assume in some mysterious way Nesbø will tie them all together, and it is his genius that he does.

In the great tradition of dysfunctional police inspectors, Hole must fight his own demons in order to rescue or avenge those he loves. Instead of closing in on himself, he expands to embrace love. Instead of becoming incapacitated by his losses, he stubbornly bullies his way through the system to find resolution.

The relationship between Hole and his former partner Ellen Gjelten exemplifies the very human nature of Nesbø's characterizations. Even most of the bad guys are so human in their failings. Even if they are over the top, they are not parodies. Not that that would stop a reader from hoping for a proper comeuppance!

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