June 7, 2012

THE LEOPARD


by Jo Nesbo
740 pages, Vantage Books

Review by Marc Nash

At the end of Nesbo's previous novel, "The Snowman", my satisfying first encounter with this highly touted crime writer (see earlier Booksquawk review), the publishers give the first chapter of his next, which turned out to be this book. And very fine a first chapter it was too, as a woman wakes up into a terrifying situation. Her fear and the strangeness of her disposition are really well ramped up by Nesbo and explode in a terrifying conclusion to the chapter.

But then "The Leopard" never really gets any better than that imaginative first chapter. With the action spread out between Nesbo's Norway, Hong Kong and The Congo, this book had the feel of being written in hotel rooms as a superstar author conducts a world tour. The parts in the Congo, amidst its perpetual internecine wars, just didn't ring particularly true, its colonial past only sketchily rendered. And Hong Kong, where detective hero Harry Hole begins this story, also seems exotic for the sake of being exotic, rather than the reader being able to gain any true taste of the place. Hole has, ahem, holed up there and developed a heroin addiction in the aftermath of the Snowman case and the fracturing of his relationship with his partner and her son. He is persuaded, somewhat unconvincingly to this reader's mind, to come back to Norway to tackle another serial killer. Oh and to visit his terminally ill father. The heroin addiction recedes from centrality for most of the rest of the book. Hole muses unconvincingly on patrimony, family and death after hospital visits, in between trying to solve the case which doesn't really overlap with any of these themes, other than death of course.

And if Hole is able to overcome heroin easily enough, some of the death-defying manoeuvres he is able to negotiate are equally incredulous. He survives avalanches, being kidnapped by gun-happy Congolese militia and tedious attempts at political backstabbing by other Norwegian security officials. The plotting is also somewhat leaden, in that each time a suspect crops up on the horizon, the reader is confident that this is a red herring being offered up just through how it is structured. Though the killer's identity is successfully masked by Nesbo, throwing the reader off the trail, I really wasn't that interested by the book's culmination. And just to lay it on even thicker with a trowel, Nesbo resorts to that most recent of post-Hannibal Lecter clich├ęs, having Hole visit The Snowman killer in prison in order to pick his brain on his fellow serial killer's modus operandi, like all serial killers are members of the same club and have to abide by its code of practise.

So, I have read two Nesbo books now, the last two in the Harry Hole series. One I loved and this, the other, was an absolute trial to get through. So I guess I'm going to have to read a deciding third title to see if I am going to continue with the man and read all his oeuvre or not. I'll get back to you when I have.

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