The Redbreast – Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo introduces us to Harry Hole, and although I know there are two previous novels, this is the first in Nesbo’s series of books which has been translated although third chronologically. Being new to this author and with slight trepidation about reading a translated novel, I picked up The Redbreast.

Harry Hole is the main character, a detective who made a judgement call and a decision which affects the next path of his career, in fact a rather surprising path. Harry is an archetypal detective, a drink problem never far away, strangely attached to his colleague, Ellen, no personal life other than a father who he rarely sees and a sister who has I can only assume being Down’s syndrome. Simply a workaholic whose whole life is consumed by his job in the police. Jo Nesbo has a main character which can be found in many crime novels, but there is nothing wrong with that, and in some ways as a reader of crime novels and watching a number on the television at least you know what you are going to get with Harry Hole. And get it you do.

However his actions have caused waves and now as an Inspector he is given a different role, investigating Neo-Nazis and also the sudden use of a rare weapon being used in a recent crime. Are the two connected, and without some of the normal resources he is used to, he enlists some help from his colleague Ellen. Then something goes wrong and Harry has to try and find out what Ellen was trying to tell him, and who else knows what she was going to divulge and does it have anything to do with the Neo-Nazis and the plans they may have for the Norway’s Independence Day.

The timeline of the novel moves between the actions of the present day and that of the Second World War, and the occupation of Norway by the Nazis fighting the Russians at the Eastern Front. Here we see life in the trenches, the threat of the Bolsheviks but the relentless dictatorship of the Nazis. Decisions have to be made about where loyalties lie not just when fighting but also in love as well. This is the back-story to the one we as readers are witnessing in the present day.

Once it is all told, the action moves continually into the present and each chapter builds on what Inspector Hole is finding out and where he pieces together with help from friends and enemies the truth, but will he have time to stop the unthinkable happening?  The story lines all come together and I was unsure if they wood because for the first 100 pages or so I struggled with the book and have to admit I nearly gave up. I am glad I did not.

This is a complex novel with perhaps what could be described as a complex character, but Harry Hole has some dry humour and there were parts that made me smile. It was slow to start with but it soon picked up its pace, and I was reading away wanting to find out what happened next and who everyone was and how they fitted in to the bigger picture. I liked the historical elements of the story and learnt a little more about how Norway featured in the Second World War, my knowledge being fairly limited about that particular historical area. I admit to being slightly confused a number of times with the number of characters, their names and the settings in Norway. None of it was familiar to me, so I had to trust the author and just simply ride along with the story. It worked probably 90% of the time, but I am sure some of it passed me by and I did not understand.

I know some criticise this as being not as good as subsequent novels, for my first foray into Norwegian crime fiction this was a good book to start and I look forward to reading the next.

I admit to being rather worried about reading translated fiction, for some reason I simply thought I would not understand it. A strange concept but there you go. I was also concerned because I must be one of the very few people who has not read The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson and as the book is pitched as the Next Stieg Larsson I was even more sceptical. 

Yes, I did nearly give up, mainly because I found the jumping around from past to present, the characters and the numerous place names (which I did not understand and therefore not recognise) in the first 100 pages rather off putting, but having read it and the story picked up, I now realise that Nesbo was setting the scene not just for the present but filling us all in on the past. 

I enjoyed the book once it did race along quite nicely, the chapters were nice and short and I felt rather captured by Harry Hole and all what was going on.  I was still left somewhat confused by the place names, but I do not know why. I want to say it is because I have no knowledge of Oslo and the surrounding areas. But then I have read books set in Glasgow and have no knowledge of that place either having never visited. Perhaps with a second reading I would feel more comfortable about it. 

Notwithstanding my witterings on the place names and my obvious suspicion about reading a translated novel, I do so want to read the next one in the series Nemesis and will look out for it. Not in kindle format but in actual book format like this one, there was something about having hold of the book which made me want to keep reading, probably because I could see what I had read and how much there was to come! 

Now for the comparison with Stieg Larsson, I cannot compare having not read them. I always feel that som e authors are never allowed to come out of the shadow when they are constantly compared to others. (I know it is a marketing tool, but I am cynical) I cannot say Jo Nesbo stands above the rest, because I have not read ‘the rest’ but he stands out for me as being Jo Nesbo and that is all he needs to do.