Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Redbreast - Jo Nesbo

In the virtual neighborhoods I hang out in, it is nearly impossible to have not heard of Jo Nesbo.  He has been compared to the "next Stieg Larsson", which I guess is meant to grab you by the lapels and make you take notice, but I'm not sure it is fair.  Yes, he is Norwegian.  Yes, he writes crime fiction. But I think the guy can stand on his own, no offense to the late great Larsson.

On a whim, I purchased two Nesbo books at a Borders closeout sale..."The Redbreast" and "The Devil's Star".  What I found out after the fact was that Nesbo has 8 books published, all in a series that involves one Harry Hole, Inspector for the Oslo Crime Unit.  "The Redbreast" is number 3, "The Devil's Star" is number 5.  The rest of the books are either not available in the US or are not easily accessible.  I'm just telling all of you this so you will be forewarned that reading them in order may not be possible until they are all translated.  But nothing can be done to save me now.  I'm reading my two books, order be damned.

Synopsis:  Struggling on-again, off-again alcoholic, Harry Hole has been reassigned from the Crime Unit to the Norwegian Security Service.  Although his superiors would prefer him to lay low and shuffle papers after a horrible shooting accident, this is against Harry's nature.  He stumbles across a case that piques his interest:  the illegal purchase of one of the world's most powerful and rare sharp-shooting rifle.  Hole suspects an assassination is being planned.

Harry is plunged into a world of Neo-Nazis, arms smuggling, corrupt politicians, and deadly secrets between a small group of Norwegian men who fought for the Nazis on the Eastern front in WWII.  A string of murders past and present, initially seeming unrelated, all intersect in a complicated and breathtaking tale of betrayal, revenge and passion.  Harry's dogged determination to unravel the threads, though, could come with repercussions.  Not only is his life at stake, but also his new-found sobriety and a new relationship.

My thoughts:  Consider me blown away.  If you pick up Nesbo expecting anything close to normal crime fiction, you will be blown away too.  Just as my other colleagues have done with other Nesbo novels, I would highly recommend this one as well, but with disclaimers.

The narrative of the story goes back and forth in time, between the 1940's and the present day.  At first, there is no connection whatsoever between the two plot threads, but of course we know they will eventually converge somehow.  The problem comes in keeping it all straight in your mind.

I found the book started out slow and highly confusing.  Gah!  All these Norwegian names!  I couldn't keep them straight.  I had to flip back and forth compulsively.  There were multiple plots, many of the names of characters were the same or very similar (Gudbrand, Gudeson, really?), aliases, double-crossing, multiple agendas, and talk of betrayal from every bad guy in a long list of them.  I became extremely frustrated and confunded, and eventually just gave up and hoped it would sort itself out in the end.  Well, good news, it did.

Once this baby got ramped up and I stopped trying to outsmart and out think it, it was a runaway train.  One night, I was up until 3am in the morning trying to finish it.

This is crime fiction at its smartest.  And Nesbo assumes his readers are up to the task...no dumbing down here.  The character development (which would have been even better had I been able to read the first two installments, thankyouverymuch translators and publishers and whoever decided to introduce these out of order!) was rich and complex.  There is no way I can now turn my back on Harry.  I must know more.  I liked him alot, even though he is severely damaged.  But really, aren't all the good ones?  He is determined and kind-hearted, and that is what counts.

The pacing started out slow, but by about halfway it picked up, and at the end you feel like you will be plunged headfirst into a brick wall at 90 mph.  So for that last hundred pages, brew some coffee.  You won't be sleeping until it is finished.

4.5 out of 5 stars     

       

17 comments:

Nymeth said...

It's too bad about the reading out of order thing... I tend to be picky about that. But this definitely sounds worth skipping my compulsion for.

caite said...

did I mention before that I started The Snowman by Nesbo and am having some issues with it? I will admit the names are driving me nuts, which I don't understand because it has never been an issue with Norwegian..and swedish and such...before.
But I will buckle down!

JoAnn said...

Reading a series out of order bothers me, too. Sounds like an exception is definitely warranted in this case... must read Nesbo!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This is the only one I haven't read, so I just picked it up, because, like you say, it's Jo Nesbo, how can one not read him? I'm on a plane again in a couple of days, and am saving it for that. I like the idea of flying while flying, so to speak!

Marce said...

The fact that Larsson keeps coming up makes me less inclined but The Snowman has been calling my name and now your commenter Caite is having issues with it, :-0

I am going to give him a try though, hoping his far better than Larsson in my opinion.

Zibilee said...

The other day I read a review of The Snowman, and was determined to buy the first book in the series and get acquainted with Harry Hole, but like you mentioned, it can't be had in English, so I was very frustrated. I have been debating whether or not to start with this one, or wait for the American translators to get on the ball and make the whole series available. I still haven't decided, but after reading your review, I am determined to read at least some of these books!

natalie @book, line, and sinker said...

okay, now i'm officially laughing. last week i left a (lamenting!) comment on your post on 'cutting stone' about how it was the second time in a day i saw a great blogger review for a book i literally had in my hands but put down in favor of another. well, the OTHER book i put down that day was one by nesbo!!! wow, i am really on your wavelength!

Book Dilettante said...

Yes, this is a book I've got to read! I'm surprised I haven't read any books by Nesbo as yet.
Book Dilettante

bermudaonion said...

I read a book that had been translated from Japanese and the similarity of the names was a problem in that one. I have a feeling the names don't seem all that similar to them. I have got to try one of Nesbo's books!

Darlene said...

I'm not much for crime novels but your enthusiasm for these is contagious. I noticed iTunes has quite a few on audio. I may have to try one some day.

heidenkind said...

I'm not really that into crime fiction, but I've definitely considered giving Nesbo a shot.

Melody said...

I haven't read a crime fiction for a while! I've one Jo Nesbo book in my pile (I think it's "The Snowman") so I look forward to it.

Alyce said...

It's very rare for me to be in the mood for mystery/suspense books, but I have been hearing great things about this author.

farmlanebooks said...

I enjoyed The Snowman, but I hated reading it out of order and so I'm not going to read any more of this series until they translate the first ones. I'm pleased to see that you enjoyed this one, but I am going to be very patient.

Literate Housewife said...

I've got this lined up for audio after my current listen. I'm so glad you loved this!

Plus, he's awfully nice on the eyes. Just sayin!

Amy said...

Oh wow, Sandy this sounds fantastic! I'm thrilled to know there's some more great crime fiction available for me to read. I can't believe some of Nesbo's books aren't published here...fortunately I don't mind reading books out of order. The confusing names I'm used to from Stieg Larsoon...usually I shorten them so I can remember them easier!

Thanks for your awesome review!

Melissa said...

I'm afraid the names would throw me off too! That's one of the reasons I love the audio of the Millennium trilogy.