Anthony McIntyre reviews a Jo Nesbo book.

The third Harry Hole based novel: only on this occasion the reader finds the man of the moment on home territory. Scandinavian crime fiction no matter how entertaining tends to feel more authentic when rooted in the likes of Oslo rather than Bangkok. The feeling was never far away that had this script been applied to foreign climes it would not have worked quite so well. Although The historical contextualisation is played out on the Eastern Front during World War 2, the real meat of the story is in Norway.

That said, the background has its own power of pull for a reader like myself still fascinated by the Soviet thwarting of Operation Barbarossa. Citizens of Norway had signed up to the Waffen SS and duly took their position on the front line close to Leningrad. Images of that readily jump up in my mind courtesy of having in the past year read Alexander Wurth’s book on the siege of the city.

Once voted as the “Best Norwegian Crime Novel Ever Written” I would hope this is not so. It would mean the remaining Nesbo books will not be as good. That would be a shame given the number still to be got through.

The plot is considerably less complex than on the two previous outings. Harry Hole, through circumstances beyond his control, is left less in control of the detail than the reader is accustomed to. And there is always the concern that Hole is made the hero when there is no need to. It did not have to be him to intervene to arrest an attack on the President of the US during a visit to Norway in the opening pages. Hole’s brilliance lies in his flawed ordinariness rather than a Superman type character. He could have played a cameo role in that incident and the narrative from there on would have remained unaffected.

Much of the investigation he is tasked with is in pursuit of a Maerklin hunting rifle that had been brought into Norway. There was only one purpose for the possession of such a powerful weapon: assassination. The downside is that there is too much of an overlap with Frederick Forsyth’s Day Of The Jackal.

At the end the reader is left with the knowledge that the target of Hole’s pursuit has been dealt with but disconcertingly a more sinister killer goes free: a persona who at first stirs memories of a thoroughly unlikeable character from a book by  Leif GW Persson who down the line has to emerge again: his victim much too likeable to allow justice to slip into the abyss along with the life stolen. Then an even more likely contender for comparison with the Perrson character emerges: Bernt Brandhaug, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whose antediluvian take on women is like something straight out of the biography of Harvey Weinstein.

The investigation takes Hole into the circles of neo-Nazis where he meets an old adversary he had once sent away for having bashed the head of a Vietnamese living in Norway.  The historical lineage is there with the Eastern front but in terms of ideology there is little from Leningrad that resembles the Norwegians lounging around the bars. The Norwegians of the Waffen SS emerge in better light than the racist thugs, one of whom comically sports a Hitler-like moustache to emphasize his Aryan purity. The citizens of Leningrad might have avoided death by starvation had the thugs rather than the SS been tasked with laying siege to their city.

Compelling without being overly complex, Redbreast sets the scene for a conflict and just retribution to come.

Jo Nesbo, 2010. Redbreast. Publisher: Vintage Digital. ASIN: B003SNJYSK.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

1 comment to ''Redbreast"

  1. Just walked in to the canteen and one of the staff is sitting reading a Jo Nesbo book! I'll have to read one of these now.


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