Fiction – December 2019

Number 22 of the Spenser series, this was one of the better ones. Spenser is searching for a policeman’s missing wife. It quickly transpires that things (as usual) are not what they seem. The reader gets snappy dialog, a touch of sex and violence, and a story worth following. Recommended. But start at the beginning.

Fantasy romp that fell flat with me. Nothing was convincing: jerky dialog, uneven characterization, and unlikely motivations. The fantasy backdrop didn’t work. The story might have been worth telling, but not like this. Avoid.

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The Thirst – Jo Nesbo

I love the Harry Hole character. I love Jo Nesbo’s writing. I love Jo Nesbo’s plots, his sense of pacing, the artfully done backdrop, and the enthralling nature of each book. So far, so good. It’s been a while since the last Harry Hole book. Would this be up to scratch? I’m delighted to say, this one is no exception.

The story revolves around a murder victim whose particular injuries connect to a case Harry never solved. He is, inevitably, drawn into the hunt for the killer, but all is not what it seems, and the investigation always seems to be one step behind.

The tension builds up to an extended showdown, brilliantly told by Nesbo.

The supporting characters are given a bit of a push here, though if there’s one tiny, niggling black mark here, it’s that I could not 100% buy in to the killer’s motivation. That having been said, it was logical and understandable, which is more than can sometimes be said about other crime novels.

You can read this on its own if you have not read other Harry Hole books, but it would be a better reading experience to go back to the first – The Bat – and read them all. They are a joy.

Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbo

I always look forward to reading the latest Jo Nesbo book, and Midnight Sun was certainly an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, at just over 200 pages (using a large font) it has to be said that there was also, initially, a certain sense of disappointment at how short the book was. I will come back to that. First, the plot.

Jon has run foul of the Fisherman, Oslo’s crime boss. So, he flees to the far reaches of Norway, where the sun never sets, and awaits the inevitable pursuit. While there, he encounters the Sami culture, the Laestadian religion, and some friendly, and not so friendly locals. Lea offers him shelter in an old hunting cabin, and Jon and her son become close. From there, the action heats up toward the inevitable, bloody, finale.

The author does a wonderful job of economically portraying the setting and the oppressive threat permanently in the background. And he is no slouch when the atmosphere is superseded by the action.

One of the reasons the book is short is that there is virtually no fluff; it’s escape and pursuit and showdown. Nesbo has resisted temptation to add bells and whistles to a simple tale (though there are surprises) and that makes it that much more effective.

So, in summary: short and sweet. Very sweet, indeed.

Blood on Snow – Jo Nesbo

First, a consumer warning: this is a short book, more properly described as a novella than a novel.

Second, you are likely to read it in one sitting, but that’s not (only) because it is short; it’s because it is a great read.

Now, what are we talking about?

This is a 1970’s set crime story, told mainly from the first person perspective of a fixer (aka a killer) who is somewhat unusual. I won’t spoil any of the experience to be gained by discovering the character for yourself. Suffice it to say, there are some interesting aspects and ideas touched on.

This character has a love interest that he has never properly pursued: a girl he saved from the fallout of her relationship with a doomed junkie.

But there’s about to be a shock to the killer’s world, as the relationship with his sole employer is tested.

The writing style is somewhat different from Nesbo’s other books, and draws you well into the world view of the protagonist. But do not be deceived by the gentle narrative, for it is laced with a a surprise or two, and the odd morale challenge. And the proverbial dilemma of how much the reader should trust a subjective narrative is nicely handled here.

In short (ahem) this is a fine piece of character driven crime fiction, that is well worthy of your time. Up and coming or potential writers would do well to study it carefully, for there are many treasures within its simple facade.

The Son – Jo Nesbo


Like crime fiction? Stop what you are doing, right now. Go and buy this book. Yes, right now. Yes, it is that good. Do not, under any circumstances, miss it.

First, the background. Sonny Lofthus is a model prisoner (and drug addict) in an Oslo jail. He confesses to crimes in exchange for the continuing supply of drugs. After 12 years inside, acting as a confidant to other prisoners who want to unburden themselves, one day a confession sets him off. And so the bloody trail begins.

Sonny’s father and mother are dead. His dad was a policeman who committed suicide rather than be exposed as a corrupt officer of the law. The new information sends Sonny into the world, looking for revenge. While he is on that mission, his father’s former police partner – Simon Kefas – is the one trying to stop him.

This is a cracking, violent, blockbuster of a book, The characters are, largely, interesting and enticing. The plot is brilliantly seeded, and unraveled with consummate skill. Page tuner? You bet. The one fear as you go along may be that the ending will be a disappointment. Trust me; it’s more of the same. This book is quality, quality, quality.

Weak parts? I wasn’t sure of the character known as the Twin. Without giving too much away, his character felt less than well developed. He was almost a background baddie. Now, I don’t think that detracted from the plot, but I would have liked to know a little bit more of him.

Beyond that, this book delivered what it promised: a bloody good read.

Finally, a word of thanks to the translator, Charlotte Barslund. I have experienced good books that lost impact due to a dud translation. Here, it’s a seemingly seamless translation. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Police – Jo Nesbo

In the latest outing for one of my favorite defective detectives, Harry Hole, he is slow to make an appearance, with a good chunk of the first half of the book taken up with other characters and setting of the scene. It’s a credit to Nesbo’s talent that he manages to create such an enthralling tale – all the while having some fun at our expense with some misdirection – and develop the plot so strongly before his best character turns up. But I should not be surprised, as this author’s output has been consistent in its high quality. So, to begin with, this a wonderful read.

We are, as usual, in Oslo. Harry is off the force, working as a lecturer at a police college. (There is a cracking sub plot with a student who is infatuated with him.) Meanwhile, the Chief of Police is in a political fight for his life, because there’s a killer out there targeting policemen. Harry’s old colleagues are struggling without him, and you can guess what results.

Saying more might gave away too much of the plot, and that would spoil a good part of the novelist’s craft. There are several plot threads going all over the place, and Nesbo weaves them superbly. It really is a joy to read. Another page turner which ends with the sinking sensation when you finish reading it and realize there is no more.


Cockroaches – Jo Nesbo

This is an early Harry Hole crime story, recently published, and features the woes and worries of one of my favorite defective detectives, on a mission to Thailand.

The Norwegian ambassador has been found, murdered, in a brothel. Harry is sent to investigate the murder and keep a lid on things, following orders from his political masters. Of course, Harry is not that great at following political orders, having vague notions of justice, right, and wrong. So, the investigation sets off one or two other violent events, and matters start to snowball. But back in Norway, they want him to finish the case off, nice and neat. And yesterday.

The book is a great page turner, but takes the time to portray an authentic Thai background including – inevitably – the sex tourism industry.

The plot goes through various twists and turns, while being unravelled, and Harry comes across some fascinating characters. The violence, and the threat of it, seems to be always hiding in the shadows and Nesbo is especially talented at judging how to balance this, and the capabilities of his characters. There are no supermen here, and it’s not only bad people who come to a grisly end.

If there’s a minor weakness, it is that the plot just about goes to the absolute limit of the suspension of disbelief necessary to make the story work. However, the writing is top notch, the detective as freshly troubling and enthralling as always, and the author’s social and political observations are razor sharp.  A great read.

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.”

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