In November, I reported that I had started to binge read the thriller novels — the Harry Hole series — of Jo Nesbo. Well, I have finally finished them, all eleven, and I have rarely had such a prolonged good time with a single author.
Harry Hole is a Norwegian detective inspector (and later a consultant to the Oslo Police) specialising in serial murders. He is a disreputable drunk (and later a recovering alcoholic) disliked by most of his peers. However, as the series progresses and he solves ever more difficult cases, his abilities and reputation tend to the legendary.
All the books are centred on Oslo, which Nesbo paints with a knowing eye, but many of the books also include long sections set in Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, and various European cities. Each location, in Norway and elsewhere, drawn with intimate knowledge and careful atmospherics.
These are not whodunits in the style of, say, Agatha Christie cosies; most especially in the later works, we know who at least some of the bad guys are. Rather, the novels are a fine amalgam of procedural and tense thriller. Nesbo has a wonderful ability to mislead the reader about who is doing what to whom, and he builds tension with that ambiguous uncertainty. The novels are also graphic, sometimes grotesquely so, in their use of violence.
Nesbo is also a master at weaving into his tales the cultural realities of modern life; the music, the technology, the changing mores of social interaction.
In my previous reviews of novelists’ work (Laurence Gough, John Le Carre, and John Irving, for example), I have tried to explain the pleasure I get from watching the author grow and change throughout their careers. I’m not sure it is the same with Nesbo; his style and quality seemed to exist even from the first Hole book, The Bat. What progresses as each of the the novels appear is a definite assurance, a confidence to try ever riskier plot developments (it is remarkable, for instance, that in The Police, the 10th novel in the series, Harry Hole does not even appear until page 164).
I am certain that many readers will enjoy these books in whatever order they come to hand. However, I can say with certainty, that reading them in order provides a deeper pleasure. There are important story lines and relationships that play through several volumes, and their interest only grows if you have the background that earlier works provide.
Jo Nesbo is a prolific author; apart from the Harry Hole series he has written at least eleven other works. I will give him a break for a while but I will definitely be reading his other work sooner rather than later.