The ending of “Police,” the 10th Harry Hole (pronounced “hooley”) thriller from Jo Nesbø, pretty much hinted that Harry might be finished with police work and would remain on the faculty of the college where he’s been quietly lecturing.
Since that time, Nesbø has published “Blood on Snow” and “Midnight Sun,” two short, distinctly disquieting, non-Harry psychological thrillers, as well as “The Son,” a taut procedural that is also Hole-less.
All this suggested that Nesbø might be retiring his popular police detective. Thank goodness that those of us who have been disappointed at the prospect of no more Hole realize that we have, well, jumped the gun.
There’s a film of “The Snowman” the best known of the series, opening this winter, a film that stars Michael Fassbender as Harry. (Anyone who has yet to begin that book, by the way, is in for a nonstop roller coaster of a read.) Harry Hole now returns in print for the rest of us. We need him almost as much as does the city of Oslo.
There’s another serial killer loose in Oslo, and he is being called “a vampirist” — not the mythical “vampire” of, say, Stoker’s “Dracula,” but a human who receives gratification from the bloodletting of the necks of others. The vampirist of “The Thirst” seems to be “a man of average or above average height, with the teeth of a predator.”
And his identity is revealed about a third of the way through the novel.
He is Valentin Gjertsen. On his chest, he sports a tattoo “like that of a demon trying to get out.” He also has a connection to Harry. Let’s just call Gjertsen “the one who got away,” the one who intends to exact revenge on those closest to Harry.
One of those would be Rakel, whom Harry has finally married and who is now a lawyer in the Foreign Ministry. The other would be Rakel’s son, Oleg, who has kicked his addiction to drugs and is presently living with his girlfriend while he attends Police College, where Harry is on faculty.
In charge of the investigation is Detective Inspector Katrine Bratt, who has been trained by Harry and who is carefully trying to avoid Chief of Police Mikael Bellman, ambitious still and opportunistic as ever.
Her team is Bjorn Holm, forensics expert; Hallstein Smith, psychologist with a vast knowledge of vampirists; Anders Wyller, rookie investigator; and the reprehensible Truls Bernsten, Bellman’s less-than-adept mole.
The police need Harry Hole, who early on describes himself as “an alcoholic murder detective on a low salary, who was currently a sober lecturer at Police College on an even lower salary.”
But Harry has promised Rakel to stay off the force. Yet there’s a serial killer finding new victims through Tinder, the online dating service. But Rakel is in the hospital in an induced coma.
And Harry is faced with one of his most difficult dilemmas yet. Does he stay at Rakel’s side to offer support, comfort and, yes, personal protection? Or does he return to the investigation to possibly save more lives?
“Is your calling still ruining your life, even though it is your life?” someone pointedly asks Harry.
How Harry Hole navigates all this is the strength of this 11th entry in the addictive series, which Jo Nesbø returns to with great aplomb. After a slow start, “The Thirst” careens its way through the series’ typically idiosyncratic supporting characters and terrifically maddening red herrings with the guidance of its doggedly humane, decidedly unconventional detective.
It’s good to have you back, Harry.
Steven Whitton is a Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.