by Jo Nesbø, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett; Knopf, 2013; 436 pages; $25.95.
Jo Nesbø’s detective Harry Hole (pronounced “hooley”) returns for the second time in one year. “The Redeemer,” the sixth in the series, was first released in America this past spring. It falls directly before “The Snowman,” the publication of which cemented Nesbø’s reputation in this country. “Police” is the 10th in the series, and its plot follows directly on the heels of “Phantom.”
Harry Hole, “the tall, grumpy alcoholic with the big heart,” has always been a man in search of a moral compass for the world around him, a world that doesn’t share his integrity. At least until the end of “Phantom.” Now it seems Harry is missing in action.
And the detective is needed — desperately.
On the anniversary of an unsolved crime, a policeman has been brutally beaten and killed at the scene. Mikael Bellman, Oslo’s Chief of Police cum media star, and his investigation units are working in tandem this time, but six months after the murder they still have no leads.
Now more police are being murdered in the same manner (although nothing has yet topped the glacial horror of the opening of “The Snowman”). At the same time, an unknown man — brutally wounded man and fighting for his life — lies in a coma in a hospital in the heart of Oslo. He is being closely guarded, and so is his identity.
There are a number of suspects: Bellman’s former colleague who was removed from the force rather brusquely for undisclosed reasons, a diabolical child molester with a knack for rising from the dead, and a determined young police rookie whose ambition turns out to be dangerous in unexpected ways — especially when it comes to Harry.
Who is still needed — desperately. Because Bellman is botching things at every turn, even keeping quiet his affair with a high-ranking city official. What of Harry’s special crime unit that Bellman seems to stop at every turn? And what of Rakel, Harry’s girlfriend, and her son Oleg, a young man who wants to be a police officer even as he is still smarting from what he did at the end of the last Hole novel.
“Police” is, like many in the Hole series, a wildly intricate, often infuriatingly brutal, novel with the usual unruly collection of Nesbø red herrings. So, who cares? “Police” is at heart a completely satisfying, deeply principled novel.
Once again, Nesbø proves himself to be the real thing.
Steven Whitton is an English professor at Jacksonville State University.