“Knife,” the 12th Harry Hole (pronounced “Hooley”) thriller from Jo Nesbø, pretty much begins where “The Thirst,” the most recent Hole case, leaves off.
Not that the author’s fans have been kept waiting for the two years in between books. Since “The Thirst,” Nesbø has published his contemporary version of “Macbeth” for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. That “Macbeth”is a white-knuckle wild ride of ghosts and witches, murders and revenge, occasional sleepwalking and incessant hand washing, moments that are quite often tempered by poetry worthy of Shakespeare.
“The Snowman”remains the best known of the Hole series. Anyone who has yet to experience that book, by the way, is in for a non-stop rollercoaster of a read.
Harry Hole now returns for the rest of us in a book that contains at once the Harry we have come to expect and the Harry we hoped was somewhere underneath all that Hole bravado.
Yes, there’s yet another serial killer loose in Oslo, and his identity is revealed within the novel’s opening pages.
He is Svein Finne, known as “The Fiancé.” Finne is 80 years old. He is a collector of exotic knives, one of which is always at the ready. He is also a serial rapist bent on impregnating as many young women as possible as his permanent legacy.
Finne has a previous connection to Harry: “He was my first case,” Harry admits. Harry visited Finne’s jail cell during his investigations in “The Thirst,” and that novel ends with a very unsettling revelation about Finne’s connection to the killer Harry uncovers. If the killer in that book intends to exact revenge on those closest to Harry, let’s just say that Finne has found rather twisted reasons to do the same.
The person closest to Harry remains Rakel, his wife, who has recently thrown him out of their home. Rakel’s son, Oleg, who has kicked his addiction to drugs, is presently working for the police, while he and his fiancée, Helga, plan their life together.
And Harry? Well, he’s still the liability he always has been. He’s still drinking too much. He’s still responding to his gut feelings. In fact, he is now being given only “cold cases” to investigate.
In charge of Harry is newly appointed chief of police Katrine Bratt, whom Harry trained. Bratt is married to forensics expert Bjorn Holm and is the mother of a new baby.
There’s Kaja Solness, who once traveled to Hong Kong “to fetch Harry home so he could hunt a serial killer the Oslo Police hadn’t managed to catch … And it wasn’t exactly clear who had needed rescuing most: the Oslo Police or Harry.”
Harry’s personal life will eventually become a harrowing part of the Finne case. There are other important issues, too. Is Harry growing too old? Is he becoming too soft?
Then the Finne investigation disappears from the novel. And then “the brilliant Harry Hole” achieves “his greatest triumph by uncovering the brilliant Harry Hole” as the current investigation’s prime suspect.
How “Knife” navigates all this is the potency of this 12th entry in the addictive series that Jo Nesbø returns to with great assurance. There are his typically idiosyncratic supporting characters, from former lovers to former soldiers, both with connections, this time, to the Middle East. There are those maddening Nesbø red herrings that continue to cause gasps of surprise at unexpected intervals. Yet, no worries: The book’s abundant subplots are miraculously tied together in a violent, remarkably satisfying denouement.
Most importantly, though, there’s still the emphatically compassionate, stubbornly singular creation that is Harry Hole. It’s good to find him still on our side.
Steven Whitton is a retired Professor of English.