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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Police by Jo Nesbø

Knopf, 448 pages, $25.95

This review starts with a spoiler. I have to discuss the ending of Phantom, the last book in the Oslo murder squad series by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you read (at least) that book first. If you’ve never read any of the books in this series, don’t start here.

Since 1997, Harry Hole (pronounced Hah-ree Who-la, in a sing-song way) has been the central character of Nesbø’s long-running series. The start of Police resonated with his absence. His teammates are there but dispersed: Beate Lønn, head of Krimteknisk; Ståle Aune, a psychologist now back in private practice; Bjørn Holm, a red-headed detective with a Rasta affectation; Gunnar Hagen, head of the crime squad (“resembling a monk more and more with the rich abundance of hair like a laurel wreath around his blank, shiny pate”); and Katrine Bratt, a Lizbeth Salander-like character.

At the end of Phantom, Harry was shot by the son of his girlfriend. It’s hard to believe he’s dead, so when the character of a mysterious coma patient appears, diligently guarded by a 24-hour police guard, it’s hard not to hope that perhaps Harry somehow cheated Death. Hope despite the gloomy reminiscences of his fellow detectives: “Harry would have done this,” “Harry would have said that.” Implicit is the understanding that Harry can no longer do or say anything. Whatever his fate, the atmosphere is pregnant with his absence.

Aune says, “He missed having the tall, grumpy alcoholic with the big heart on the phone asking — or to be precise, commanding — Ståle Aune to do his social duty.”

Harry’s presence is definitely missed when one police officer after another is murdered. Murdered in an angry and twisted way. The first police officer’s body is discovered at the site of another murder years before. That time the body belonged to a young woman, a rape victim, whose murderer has not been apprehended. The second police officer dies under similar circumstances, placed at the scene of an older crime that has gone unpunished. Against the wishes of his new chief of police, the corrupt and ambitious Mikael Bellman, Gunnar Hagen reassembles the murder squad, the Delta team, to find the cop killer.

Police is a roller coaster ride, running amok with suspenseful moments taken from every thriller-movie convention. Nesbø plays his readers, but it works. Keep shouting “Don’t open the door,” “Turn around NOW,” and “If it smells bad, call the police — oh, wait, you are the police.” Maybe one of the characters will hear you.

Katrine is the shining star of this book, although there are many, many characters, both good and bad, running around from disaster to disaster or plotting each disaster, each capable of giving you an instant of horripilation. Her devotion to Harry’s memory, her research skills, and her willingness to go off on a tangent will make you do a fist pump.

As with other Jo Nesbø books, this one does not have a clean and simple story with a clean and simple solution. Take notes because Nesbø delights in tossing in red herrings and plot bombs. Like fireworks in a Fourth of July display, the herrings and bombs grow more profuse and elaborate as the show nears its end.

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