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April 21, 2013 / schulerbooks

The Redeemer, by Jo Nesbø

9780307595850

There’s nothing like a murder to ring in the Christmas spirit in Oslo.

The victim was a Salvation Army bell-ringer — a common sight in a country where the organization wears uniforms and speaks of “holy war.” What wasn’t common was the fact that the killer struck the man in public, and then simply melted into the crowd. The signs point to a professional hit, which would make the assassin a hired gun. But who in the world would want to kill a man engaged in charitable work?

Tasked with solving that puzzle is Harry Hole*, who has the distinction of being an excellent and demanding detective, and the curse of being all too flawed of a human being. Harry’s a recovering alcoholic who’s just one or two bad pieces of news away from tipping back into a bottle. He’s still trying to get over the end of his last relationship, the murder of his last partner, and a few other crosses he’s bearing at any given time.

Chief amongst the new crosses is his new boss, who is either a well-meaning stickler for rules or a jerk looking to fire him — maybe both. And then there’s the lady in AA who gets off on both him and his horror stories, and the police telling him he needs to carry a gun, now,  and worrying about the blasted lump of sorrow his former boss has become.

A lesser person might just slip into a bottle, drink himself sober, and narrowly avoid freezing to death on the streets. But Harry’s made of sterner stuff — he’ll at least make some headway on his current case before allowing himself such a selfish luxury.

The mystery deepens as the assassin strikes again, right when Harry’s in the apartment with the new target. This unnerving occurrence sheds a little more light on the case, but also deepens the mystery even more. Why is a rubber-faced Croatian gunning for Salvation Army members? Is the answer somewhere in the overlapping and complex relationships between the major players in this case? Or has something from that other nation’s past finally stirred itself to life, and come to seek blood for blood?

Can Harry crack this case before he cracks up, or the assassin strikes true? Will there be any redemption for anyone, here, this Christmas?

Reading one of Jo Nesbø’s Hole novels is like trying to solve a complicated puzzle while being stomped in the face by the cold and heavy boots of an evil, laughing clown. The mystery is dense and the atmosphere is crushing, but the pace is swift and the characters unpredictable, which makes it less of a nihilistic slog through old world treacle and more of a measured stroll along the enlightened wreckage of a society that doesn’t understand how broken it actually is.

It’s a testament to Nesbø’s writing that he doesn’t telegraph his moves in advance (you can never tell who’s going to live or die, for example) and that the grim has just enough dark humor in it to keep it from being a total downward spiral. But there’s always the sense that, even if Hole triumphs this time, there’s still some worse, larger conundrum to solve, and we might not like the answers we find, or fully understand or agree with how Hole resolves things.

Will you understand or agree? That’s for you to discover. But whether you’re a fan of Jo Nesbø’s other Harry Hole novels, or someone who enjoys the current vogue of post-Dragon Tattoo, European Dark, You should investigate The Redeemer when it arrives.

The Redeemer will be published May 21st, 2013

* Pronounced “HEU-lay,” apparently

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood

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