Phantom – Jo Nesbo

Setting: Oslo, Norway. The seamier side: where the drug addicts, dealers, and down-and-outs exist.

“It was not the future promises of a new urban development he saw, but the past. For this had been Oslo’s shooting gallery, its dopehead territory, where they had injected themselves and ridden their highs behind the barracks which partially hid them, the city’s lost children. A flimsy partition between them and their unknowing, well-meaning social democratic parents. What an improvement, he thought. They were on a trip to hell in more beautiful surroundings.”

Story: Harry Hole, former detective, returns from Hong Kong because Oleg – the son of someone he loves – has been imprisoned for murder of another young boy. Both were addicts and involved in the drug scene. The evidence makes it look an open and shut case. But Harry is not convinced that the kid who once called him dad is capable of such violence, and starts investigating. He calls in favors, extorts some co-operation, and generally puts himself about in his quest for the truth.

The Good Stuff Summary: This is the best book I have read in a long time. It’s damn near perfect.

The Good Stuff: Harry is an alcoholic who sees the end as justifying the means. He recognizes his moral compass is not faultless, as he makes his way through his investigation, but his focus is on getting to the truth. And Nesbo spares no blushes or details in portraying the desperate world of Oleg the drug addict, and his doomed friends and acquaintances. The economics, politics, and power struggle are laid bare and reassembled for the reader, so we can understand not only how it works, but why it works that way, and why obvious solutions do not solve anything.

Nesbo’s characters are so full of life, they easily form mental pictures in the reader’s mind. Hole is a kind of alcoholic Columbo. Oleg and his victim Gusto are addicted, contemporary, and supercharged versions of Jack Hawkins. The mysterious drug baron – Mr Dubai – is Harry Lime reborn. The bent policemen are slicker, smoother, effective Alonzo Harris types.

“All of a sudden we’re not getting any info off the streets. Our informers don’t know anything. Or they’re keeping shtum. There are just whispers about the man from Dubai. No one has seen him, no one knows his name, he’s a kind of invisible puppeteer. We can see violin is being sold, but we can’t trace it back to its source. The pushers we nab say they’ve bought off other sellers at the same level. It’s not normal for tracks to be covered so well. And that tells us this is a simple, very professional outfit controlling import and distribution.”

More Good Stuff: The plot is top notch, well put together, and nicely unfolded. The explanation of how everything fits together and what actually happened is revealed in several supporting story line threads which come together in a timely and explosive fashion. The interaction of the characters is believable and sustains the suspense and mystery as the reader keeps turning the page; there is no real option but to keep reading.

“Harry closed his eyes for a brief instant. Could feel he had lost it. It was gone. the hatred. The wonderful, white hatred which had been the fuel that had kept him going. He had run out of it.”

Hero: Don Bartlett for another excellent translation job.

Not So Good Stuff: I could have done with more of the same… To get the most out of this book, it’s best to have read the other Harry Hole stories first. (In short: nothing dud here.)

Score: 9/10

Read. This. Book.