by Jo Nesbø, translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett; Knopf, 2013; 397 pages; $25.95
You’ve discovered that guilt is not as black-and-white as you thought when you decided to become a policeman and redeem humankind from evil. As a rule there’s little evil but a lot of human frailty. Many sad stories you can recognize in yourself. However, as you say, one has to live. So we start lying. To those around us and to ourselves.
Words of understanding for Harry Hole (pronounced “hooley”), a detective in search of a moral compass for a world that doesn’t have quite the same ethical standards as he.
Thing is, those are the words of the mother of The Little Redeemer, a Croatian assassin-for-hire. She is essentially her son’s agent, a role she’s fallen into through strangely sympathetic circumstances. Such is Harry’s universe.
There are nine Harry Hole novels with the 10th due out this fall, but “The Redeemer,” the sixth in the series, is just now seeing its U.S. release. It takes place directly before “The Snowman,” which cemented Nesbø’s reputation in America.
The prequel begins with a harrowing incident (although nothing has yet topped the glacial horror of the opening of “The Snowman”). A 14-year-old girl is brutally attacked at the end of “a long and eventful day” at a Salvation Army summer camp.
A decade later, on a frigid and busy Oslo street just before Christmas, a Salvation Army concert is splintered by an explosion just at the moment one of the performers is shot in the head at point-blank range. There is no evidence to help out police, especially Harry, who is assigned the case in the wake of department corruption.
The investigation takes Harry from Oslo to Zagreb, from Salvation Army soup kitchens to the swankiest bistros, from “the concrete-and-glass colossus with the largest concentration of police in Norway” to a storage container terminal protecting the city’s drug-addicted squatters from a severe winter.
All the while, The Little Redeemer continues to murder — deaths that, from his unsettling perspective, might not be the revenge killings they seem.
No pressure, Harry. Really.
It’s just that Christmas is coming.
And then there’s Harry’s belief in “the next promise,” the idea that “people can keep a promise even though they broke the last one.”
And there’s — well ...
“The Redeemer” is wildly convoluted, often maddeningly so. But who cares? With each Harry Hole thriller, Nesbø proves himself to be the real thing.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.