To be honest, I am increasingly skeptical of modern police procedurals. I tend to find them very formulaic, both in terms of plot (how many abductions and tortures of white girls need I read?) and in terms of character (he drinks! he smokes! he can’t maintain a relationship except with existential despair! it’s… D.I. Whatsisface!) So when I read Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast, the third in his series about Harry Hole (pronounced, approximately, Harrah Hoolah) of the Oslo police force, I wasn’t expecting much.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a nice, tight mystery that has a well-organized double timeline: one unravels events that took place during World War II, and one deals with far-reaching consequences of those events today. I know nothing, or next to nothing, about the role Norway played in the war. (Yes, I know the word quisling, and I know that Norway was occupied, but that’s about the extent of it.) This mystery helped me understand some of that history, and also the modern context of European/ Scandinavian skinheads and fascism that is so prevalent despite the outcome of that war.
Harry Hole himself is quite an interesting detective. In some ways, he fits the mold I describe above, and in other ways he doesn’t. He struggles with alcoholism and despair, certainly, and I believe he’d prefer to be alone rather than make small talk. But he also respects women, including his partner, and he reaches out for connection with human beings other than just sexual partners. Another break from formula in this mystery was that part of it was left unsolved. The main criminal was caught — or sort of caught — but another significant murderer was not only not caught, but was, in a way, rewarded for his crime. Whether this murderer ever gets his comeuppance, I don’t know, not having read further in the series. It’s unusual for mysteries of any kind not to restore order and justice at the end, neatly enough, even if they leave existential sorts of questions unresolved.
In all, I liked this mystery. It was written in workmanlike prose, straightforward and sometimes even funny, and it was complex enough that I couldn’t see around the twists and bends. Have any of you read more of these than I have? What do you think of this series?