“I will never feel happy confronting my vacuum cleaner now that Jo Nesbo has revealed its sinister possibilities”Indeed. And that is a powerful reason for lovers of the genre to read the redeemer. What more can we ask for than a nice gruesome scene or two cozily ensconced in the cold hard body of a narrative?
The story opens with some boy-girl stuff. Youth camp. For me it brings back memories of a Soviet novel for young adults. Fancy that! Ages ago, in the early seventies, there existed young adult fiction. In a commie country! Somehow we are constantly made to feel that repressive regimes spell the death of good literature or art. Yet time and again this stifling of creativity spawns a significant and commanding outflow. A vanguard. Avant garde... To return to the book in hand, the Nordic countries all share somewhat of the same pool of archetypes as the ex-Red countries. This factor might be what makes for the popularity of the Nordic Noir genre.
The camp is part of the Norwegian Salvation Army’s setup.
I knew precious little about the Salvation Army save through mentions en famille. My folks had been in the UK before I was born. But all I was privy to was a sense of contempt and grudging admiration. I can’t really tell you if this attitude was on par with their outlook on people from the Hare Krishna foundation or the Jehovah's witnesses. My only takeaway is how the author has brought in a well known entity without introducing flavours of approval/disapproval or any such thing. Yet it makes for authenticity and atmosphere. And fits well with the broader theme of the region’s struggle with drugs. A thread that runs through the works of Mankell and others from the area. Also, besides the world of the addict, we are exposed to the measures set in place by nations in that part of the globe - drugs distributed to addicts via a governmental initiative. While I cannot say for sure that this novel applauds or denigrates such policies, it is, undoubtedly, a healthy piece of information for readers in other parts of the world which trudge through issues across the inhospitable terrain of colonial hand me downs. The pleasure and value of books is that they divinely allow us into the many worlds of others, other regions and other practices, thus enriching and empowering us.
The setting set, the novel rapidly plunges the reader into the scene of what is surely a rape. The rapist’s face is not seen but surely we know who he is. Flashes of a disturbed personality emerge early. As if this were not enough to get the adrenalin flowing, we are presented the hero, Harry Hole, and there is a ferocious dog attacking him. For me, this dog remains a major highlight of the story. Because, as it so happened, we were chased by a very angry dog around the time I’d read that chapter. The universe’s way of making a book more exciting? More pertinently, my dirty habit of skipping pages and reading a book every which way has left me in the dark about the abovementioned canine. And so I am tortured by the following questions:
Who killed the dog?
Who ate it?
And this brings us to the genre of the serial detective. This protagonist remains one and the same across a series of novels. Disconcerting if badly handled as the reader has to be privy to things that have happened to the protagonist earlier than the now of the novel. I would say that the author has done a good job of it. We painlessly get to know that Hole drinks way too much. That he had a love interest. That things have soured between them. That this is because of the compounding of Harry’s determined pursuit of a high ranking wrongdoer in the police ranks to his habit of consuming massive amounts of alcohol.
Crime and punishment on many levels, then, is also a charm of the book. Sooner than you can say genocide you’re transported to the Serbia-Croatia conflict. Time past and time present fuse explosively to bring some answers and more questions in an entertaining roller coaster ride that has you hurtling through romance, horror, geographies and urban landscapes such as shipping containers.
Ladies and gentlemen, we now have an assassin. A hitman in Hole country. He doesn’t speak a word of the local language. A challenge in itself. But who is he after and who has he shot? And why? Who hired him? There are challenges for the detectives as well - here’s a man with a face that can’t easily be recognised. A good ploy in a detective novel: you’re given almost everything on a plate and yet none of those clues work. Only Harry Hole knows the whole story!
There are enough spoilers online to help you make up your mind about reading this book or not and so I’m done so far as that goes. Were I to know a book had all or some of the above ingredients I’d buy it in a flash.
Having read it on a monsoon vacation in Goa, I’d fulsomely recommend it to anyone who loves a good crime read. Best read when it’s raining outside. Ideally served with cold meats or anything that works all the better to get you into the Nordic Noir mood.
2017 promises at least one Harry Hole film. I do hope I get to see it.