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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nemesis, by Jo Nesbø (trade, $14.99) (due at the end of December)

This is a follow-up to Norwegian Jo ("Yo") Nesbø's Red Breast, an MBTB favorite last year. It continues the story of Harry Hole, maverick police detective and mostly-functional human being.

Of all the Scandanavian authors currently being translated, he is my favorite. (Kudos to Don Bartlett for a smooth translation, including colloquialisms and puns.) Both Red Breast and Nemesis move along well, seldom bogged down by angst-filled pauses. There's a good mixture of human relationships, technological flash, clue work, and twists to satisfy almost every mystery need.

Nesbø delves into his characters' pasts, sometimes in depth and sometimes just enough to whet the appetite. Harry Hole is struggling with alcoholism – now there's something new and unusual, she said facetiously – but he maintains some buoyancy in his life because of his loving relationship with Rakel and her young son, whom we met in the first book. He struggles with the death of a close colleague – also seen in the last book – and his doggedness to solve that mystery is a secondary storyline in Nemesis. (The reader knows what really happened, so it is fascinating to watch Harry try to figure it out.)

One of the main storylines concerns a bank robber. He threatens to kill a bank teller if the manager can't empty a cash container within 25 seconds. Although the manager empties the container, but not within the 25 seconds, the robber kills the teller. That murder brings Harry into the picture. He recruits young Beate Lønn, the daughter of a legendary detective, to use her extraordinary face recognition skills to locate the masked robber.

To complicate Harry's life, an ex-girlfriend, Anna, calls him to get together one last time. Say no, Harry; run! But, of course, Harry walks right into it. And now it gets messy. Anna is found dead. It could be suicide, or someone may have murdered her and made it look like suicide. Harry cannot remember arriving at her apartment, nor can he remember finding his way back to his apartment, where he wakes up the next morning with a massive hangover. Could he have murdered her or watched her kill herself? How can he investigate this incident without implicating himself? If he can't remember arriving or leaving, isn't it possible that someone may have seen him?

And what do gypsies have to do with anything?

All three storylines are fascinating. Unlike the more famous Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which also has several storylines, Nemesis doesn't take long to build up steam. Nemesis juggles its plots nimbly. The resolutions – or lack thereof – are clever and intriguing. The addition of Beate to the police team is a welcome one. Highly recommended, but read Red Breast first.

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