Tuesday 7 June 2011

Jo Nesbo: The Redbreast Reviewed

Nesbo's detective Harry Hole appears in a tale of decades old revenge and murder, interspersed with a look at Norway's WWII fascists and their present day counterparts.

The novel starts unpromisingly for Hole: alcoholic tremors in a police car as he watches his section of the visiting US President's route, an unknown intruder in a building, a desperate footrace hoping for a stay, a shot ...

Flashbacks mixed with current day take us back to the war: a time when many Norwegians sincerely went with the Nazi cause and ended up fighting on the Russian front for their pains: freezing cold, privation and death their usual lot. Unless you're lucky enough to be wounded and taken to hospital, there to be nursed by a vulnerable and innocent young German girl. Alas, since her family fell on hard financial times her body is at the mercy of a lecherous supervisor; her paramour's life is equally vulnerable if the supervisor signs him off as well enough to return to the front.

So begins one of the main strands of the book. In the second, Hole has shot and wounded a US agent after a communication failure - he's followed procedure but it's still an embarrassment. Slimy politician Bernt Brandhaug conceives the ploy of making Hole's actions a cause for promotion, hushing up the circumstances, but sidelining him to watch neo-Nazi groups, thus (rather clumsily I'm afraid) laying the groundwork for the two main strands to come together.

How so? An old time fascist needs a weapon, a very particular sniper's rifle. Naturally he seeks out a current day Nazi to supply the weapon. By another conflation of circumstances Hole discovers the gun order and recognises the significance of the particular weapon (Hole is well informed, despite spending most of his time drinking, sobering up and staring at walls). His superiors aren't impressed at his reasoning initially: then the executions begin and Hole is let loose on the trail of the killer.

As the body count rises and as Hole fails to recognise which bodies really matter, so a countdown to the final target starts ticking. Finally the killer is in place for his last and most important killing: can Harry Hole reach him in time?

And, of course, I'm not going to tell you. You'll also be asking if this book is worth reading, given the disparaging comments I've made so far. My answer would be, yes. It's not the smoothest or most sophisticated thriller you'll ever read but it's evidence of a writing talent developing. It's also evidence of a publisher failing to rein in a novelist where both would have benefited - read it for the good points and excuse the bad. Nesbo's writing gets stronger in subsequent works but this is worthwhile both as a fair effort and as a step along the author's path.

What if you'd rather go for a later, more polished work? Fine, each Harry Hole novel can be read as a standalone - the overlapping details aren't important. The multiple storylines will persist but Nesbo has rapidly learned how to handle them in later books.

Buy from Amazon:

Jo Nesbo's own site


Online Book Shop said...

You make it sound like an interesting read. A new author for me.

Kaustav said...

got this book today from the store and am really thankful to u for the good honest reviews keep it up dude :)

Tony Heslop said...

Funnily enough we (myself Angela and friends) have been reading Nesbo's The Redbreast recently - book club activity.
General feeling is it's worth a read, Hole is actually quite likeable but there's enough Scandanavian darkness to keep you shivering those long winter nights. Good to see your review on this Paul.
Tony Heslop

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