Translated from the Norwegian by Don Barlett
Vintage Books. First published 2009.
This is one of those Scandinavian crime novels. It's gruesome, long-winded, full of references to current events and popular European culture, but overall not very satisfying. Inevitable comparisons with Steig Larsson end up rating the later higher - I would buy another Larsson (except, of course - he's dead), but I would not, probably buy another Nesbo. The hero is Harry Hole, a kind of Philip Marlowe wannabe - a hard drinking, constantly smoking ex-cop, pulled back by the Oslo Police force to solve a series of murders and to do it before the newly set-up national criminal investigation agency can crack the case. Again like Marlowe, Hole gets often beaten up. But where Chandler was sentimental but reasonably realistic, Nesbo does not appear to know quite how to characterize Hole. In spite of his boozing and smoking and smoking opium and not eating well, he remains very healthy. One scene describes him almost passing out, and then with enormous effort digging out through an avalanche (of snow), and a few hours later, without much rest, setting off on a snowmobile with a colleague through the dark, wintry, trackless, mountainous landscape to hunt for the killer. Predictably, he gets into trouble again and is again put to a great deal of physical hardship, but Harry keeps going - like Tarzan. In the end the killer kills almost all the people he has planned to kill, before Hole gets him - hardly worth the effort, one would have thought. Some of the killings are unnecessarily sadistic - there is no motivation for the sadism, and indeed very little even for the killings. Nesbo appears to just want to show off what he knows about gruesome instruments of death. And also about the places he has probably visited (as a backpacker?) So, for no real reason that moves the plot forward, the story goes from Hong Kong to Rwanda to Oslo to the mountains north of Oslo and back to Rwanda. There is a mention of the mining of coltan in the Congo and the ruinous effect this has on the people of that country, but no feeling - unlike John Le Carre in 'The Mission Song'. The title 'The Leopard' is not explained... etc. etc. But why write so much about a bad book? Well it's not completely bad - the writing is quite suspenseful, especially towards the end, and the language is good. And I suppose if one did not know Marlowe, Hole would be quite an interesting character. Maybe it's just that since this is apparently the sixth book in the series, the writing has deteriorated along with the characterization. Maybe the first one - apparently 'The Redbreast' - would be worth reading. Maybe.