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'The Devil's Star' is the first Jo Nesbo novel to be translated to English. After completing Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy my Amazon recommendations were full of Scandinavian authors and Nesbo's books had excellent reviews so on blind faith I ordered the five which have been translated to date.
All of his books feature detective Harry Hole as the main character. Hole is a bit of a caricature of what I think an amateur author would come up with. He is a fairly senior detective, has a drink problem, has a dysfunctional relationship and pays nominal attention to procedure. In addition he is working his last month as a detective as his colleagues can no longer cover for his unexplained absences. So a fairly stereotyped detective and the famous one last job combined in the one book!
In this story Hole is trying to find a serial killer who is leaving strange clues at the crime scene. The killer is removing a finger from each victim and leaving a blood red star diamond at the scene. Hole has to get to the bottom of these seemingly random killings and attempt to stop the next one from happening. With the killings happening every 5 days and his very limited time left in his own job the clock is ticking.
I found this book difficult to get into. Whether it was due to the author's writing style or the translation is difficult to say. In my opinion, the book just didn't flow in the opening 300 pages or so. Things did become a lot more cohesive from this point on and the last couple of hundred pages were really enjoyable. The thing I struggled with was that Nesbo chooses to open his chapters from multiple different people's view points. Generally these are people who have not featured in the story so far. In addition it is often not obvious where they are going to fit in. Once you get used to this it is fine but it does make the opening difficult to follow when you are trying to place all the pieces together.
One, persistent annoyance was that Hole's history is often mentioned. Previous cases are given more than a passing reference and as a reader I felt the author expected me to know about these cases, presumably through his other books. As I mentioned earlier this is the first book to be translated, but I got the feeling that it was not the first to feature this character. I guess I will only know for definite once I read the other four which have been translated but it will be very annoying if they have not been translated in order, especially when I made an effort to read them in order.
The book is set in Norway and therefore the geography of what was occurring was not obvious to me. This did not really detract from the book but I got the feeling the book was written with a Norwegian market in mind, rather than an international market. Although, to be fair, a map of Norway and of Oslo city centre were provided in the opening pages. I just didn't have the desire to keep referring to it.
Where I thought Nesbo excelled was in having an extremely open story. With slightly less than 100 pages to go almost any outcome could have feasibly been written and would have seemed plausible. His characters are a lot less black and white than many authors deliver and as a result you have your suspicions about most of them at some point. I tend not to think about books too much when I am reading them, in terms of anticipating what may happen next, but his writing style almost forces you to continually speculate on what may happen next. I was also impressed with the way he injected freshness into the usually tired, serial killer leaving clues, type of story. It is extremely skilful how he ties up all of the pieces and as a result the book seems more plausible than most authors manage. Nesbo also has a dark sense of humour which shines through in this novel. There were a couple of occasions where I was smiling at some of the things he writes.
There are a number of side stories which add to the novel. Hole is convinced one of his colleagues is corrupt and this takes up a fair chunk of the book. There are also numerous relationships which give the characters a lot more depth. Again, there was an over-riding feeling that this was the continuation of previous stories.
I would recommend this book, if you are willing to stick with it to get through the dodgy opening half. I would give it 7 out of 10 so its hard to rate on dooyoo. I've settled on a slightly harsh 3 out out of 5.
£5.49 at amazon (paperback).
My sister lent me this book a while ago and I only recently got around to finally reading it. I'm a huge fan of crime and mystery fiction, so I'm not quite sure why it took me so long. Possibly because I'd never read any of his books before, or maybe because it was set in Oslo, although I'm not quite sure why this would have made any difference. Anyway, now that I have read it, I'm so glad that I did!
Jo Nesbo is apparently Norway's most successful crime writer. He has a very fancy website at www.jonesbo.com which takes ages to load, but does give you quite a bit of information about him, including a detailed autobiagraphy and bibliography. I suppose all that's necessary to be said here is that he's Norwegian, his books have been translated into thirty languages, he's critically acclaimed and has won numerous awards for his books. He has a recurring character in a number of his books, called Harry Hole, and this book, The Devil's Star is included in the series of Harry Hole novels.
This is not the first book in the Harry Hole series, but it is the first book I have read. This did not leave me at a disadvantage, however, as the previous relevant information was concisely laid out so that I knew the necessary details, but were not belaboured so that people who had already read the previous books were bored. Harry Hole is a cop, of the down trodden variety. Alcoholic and in an absolute rut after the death of his police partner, who he believes was sacrificed by another policeman, Tom Waaler, in order to cover his dodgy dealings. Hole is determined to reveal Waaler for the criminal he is, although this proves to be difficult as Waaler is everything Hole is not - beloved of the top brass, media friendly and successful. No matter what Hole does, it only makes him seem petty and as if he has a grudge against Waaler for his success. This results in Hole sinking further into his alcoholic bingeing and eventually leads to the break up of his relationship. Finally, after covering for him for a very long time, Hole's boss writes a letter to ask for his resignation. It's currently on the desk of his commander, awaiting a signature. However, it's holiday season in Oslo and Hole has three weeks before the commander comes back to sign it. He has to prove himself and he has to reveal Waaler for the crook he believes him to be.
A series of murders begins to shake Oslo in this warm, holiday season, and they seem to have certain things in common. The removal of a finger and the presence of a five pointed star, or the Devil's Star of the books title. Hole and Waller are put on the case together simply because there are no other qualified people around. Hole begins to see connections and clues, proving he is the better detective, although his revenge is never too far out of his sight. The murders begin to escalate and it's only a matter of time before the murderer is caught, but were the clues too easy to put together?
I'm not sure what I was expecting in this book, but to say I was impressed is a very big understatement. I have never read a book in this genre which is so expertly and brilliantly paced. The balance between explanation and drama is delicately poised to perfection. At no point was I bored, despite many disparate plot points coming together throughout. Nor was it a book that left the drama to the last few pages, leaving you feeling excited but ultimately disappointed. This novel built up the drama throughout, steadily and surely adding slightly more and more until the finale.
The characters are well defined, despite already being explored in previous novels, the characterisation is just enough to let you become genuinely interested in the people they portray, but not so detailed that you know what they had for breakfast. Unless of course it's relevant. Apparently boiled blood tastes like egg - bleurgh! The character of Harry Hole, in spite of being somewhat of a cliche - alcoholic detective anyone? - is superb. You really start to care about him and the people in his life. And the bad guys are not charicatures of the bogey man, but real people that are evil, and all the more frightening for it.
I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime writing, especially those who are sick of the tired treadmill that many writers in this genre seem to currently be stuck on. A breath of fresh air and I'll be seeking out his other books to read immediately.
Published by Vintage books. Price £6.99 (unless you've got a sister like me!).