by Jo Nesbo
571 pages, Vintage
Review by Marc Nash
This is my 3rd Nesbo book in the Harry Hole detective series. And I've had diminishing returns with each read. Maybe I was unlucky to have started off at the apex with "The Snowman". Perhaps it's unfortunate that having read the most recent books seven and eight, now I am having to go backwards in the series (this was the sixth), which may not best serve up his work. Or perhaps it's because I have a problem with character-led series. I've said it in my review of "The Leopard", but what new insight into Hole or any other main character can the author reveal by book eight without me the reader thinking why didn't that trait reveal itself before?
But that wasn't necessarily the problem with this book, although how many more times can Hole face death at the hands of the killer/save someone from the same, or sleep with someone who turns out to be psychologically damaged beyond good health? Actually, there's considerably less of the first two in this than the others I've read. In fact there's tranches of text where not very much happens at all, apart from characters being en route to somewhere else, or just waiting around in houses and rooms that are not theirs (the Salvation Army own lots of properties for their benighted clients and staff alike). The body count is low in this book, which is not necessarily a problem, but the action around it sags somewhat.
There's also a lot about the Salvation Army's history and internal politics within Norway, which was rather dull and maybe of more significance to Norwegian life than it is to, say, Britain's. Instead you get these strange energy flows within most chapters, whereby the crescendoing end of the chapter has to do the work of picking up the flagging momentum that precedes it; but Nesbo has this recurring device of ending a chapter with someone being given a revelation in a bag or by phone message, but the reader doesn't get to see what it is. It just irritates me as a reader rather than playing with my emotions or interest, because it is so contrived. Then there's an alarming plot oversight in which Hole is issued with a permit to collect a new firearm, but the permit is stolen from his home, redeemed for a gun ultimately used to commit a murder. And though the police are aware that his gun has been fraudulently claimed, there seems no comeback on retrieving it or dealing with the consequence that it has become a murder weapon.
As to the third of the incredulous strands, that of Hole getting the girl, well the episode in this novel is rather distasteful to my sensibilities. A woman who was raped at fourteen (which is the start of the book), has kept herself pure out of a mixture of her Salvation Army faith and her own trauma of the original rape. And yet along comes our 'Arry, reformed alcoholic (sort of) and sweeps her off her feet, irrespective of the fact she is tangled up in his current investigation. I don't know, I find it a touch troubling that a woman who has eschewed sex after being raped, should finally be prepared to cast off her inhibitions because of Hole (even though ultimately it is he who turns her advances down). I think that represents a bit of moral blindness by the author, since Hole is so identified with Nesbo and Hole is a man who can apparently 'cure' traumatised rape victims of their fear of sex and perhaps also turn homosexuals straight...
The only redeeming feature of "TheRedeemer" (geddit?), is that there's actually a rather good character portrayal in it. A refugee from the bloody Yugoslavian conflict is drawn in a fully-fledged and sympathetic fashion. Unlike the other bad guys in this who are just bad (in all senses of the word) and homeless junkies who populate the book as the background service users of the Salvation Army, who are all thinly drawn. I was genuinely engaged by the story and fate of the Yugoslav refugee and Hole himself has some interesting dilemmas and thoughts on redemption itself. But I suspect his thoughts on the matter are not apparent in any of the novels preceding this one and I don't anticipate reading any more of the Harry Hole series to investigate whether I'm correct or not.