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THE LEOPARD


By Jo NesbÝ
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012 ($26.95)
ISBN-13: 978-0-307-59587-4
Kindle eBook: $12.99

Reviewed by Larry Jung
(December 2011)

After the capture of the serial killer The Snowman, Harry Hole, the police officer who broke the case, instead of enjoying the fruits of catching the murderer, has runaway to hide in Hong Kong. There he wallows in self-pity, drinking and taking opium. His destructive behavior spirals downward until his very life is threatened by the Chinese Triad to whom he owes a gambling debt he can't pay. The Snowman case destroyed whatever chance for love and family that Harry desperately needs. His uncovering of a highly placed, corrupt cop has made him a pariah with his police peers. Worse, this same cop was responsible for the death of Harry's partner Ellen (THE REDBREAST). Harry carries the guilt that he was unable to prevent her being clubbed to death by a Neo-Nazi thug using a baseball bat.

Kaja Solness is sent by her boss Gunnar Hagen, the head of the Crime Squad in Oslo, to find Harry Hole and bring him back. There is evidence that another serial killer is in Oslo. Forensics suggest the murders of two women were committed by the same person. The same unusual drug is found in both bodies. The Crime Squad, with the help of Interpol, is making no headway in the case. The media is screaming that there is another serial killer on the loose and what is the police doing about it. Some suggest the killings are inspired by The Snowman. Harry is the only person on the Crime Squad with the expertise and any success in catching a serial killer. But Harry is deaf to Kaja's arguments for his return to Oslo to head up the investigation. As a last resort, she tells Harry that his father is seriously ill. Only then does Harry agree to return with Kaja.

The investigation takes Harry and Kaja into the heart of darkness: to the Congo and into their own personal hells. Harry, in spite of himself, becomes obsessed with stopping the killings. There is, however, one major obstacle. Harry and the Crime Squad are ordered not to investigate the murders. For political reasons, another law enforcement unit, the Kriminalpolitisentralen (Kripos), has sole responsibility for the case. The new boss of Kripos, Mikael Bellman, wants his people to solve the serial killings to show the Ministry of Justice that his organization can successfully handle murder investigations and thereby making the existence of the Crime Squad redundant in the current cost-cutting climate. Harry must spend his time to protect himself from his enemy the politically powerful Mikael Bellman as well as solving the serial killings.

The Harry Hole novels work on multiple levels, but even more so in THE LEOPARD. There is unfinished business that Harry must finally confront; his feelings for Rakel and her son Oleg, who walked out of his life because of the Snowman. We learn more about the young Harry and his only two life-long friends. The scenes with Harry and his dying father in the hospital are as intense as any for the hunt for the killer. Harry knows that any personal relationship with his female police partner Kaja Solness will end in his hurting her deeply, but he becomes involved with her anyway. He sees his life as in transit. Harry is making a journey that will take him from hatred to love and from love to hatred. He just wants to runaway, to hide, and to sink completely into an alcoholic-drug induced stupor of self-pity.

Jo NesbÝ's narrative skill is nothing short of dazzling. He cannot write a dull sentence. The unbearable suspense kept me turning pages to find out what happened next. The clues and red herrings kept me guessing till the final revelations. His magic is to continually surprise, inform, and delight. His razor-sharp insights into even the minor characters makes for compelling reading. At the end of the book, NesbÝ has given us people we care about. His great creation is the tragic Harry Hole, who embodies humanity's capacity for good and at the same time for self-destruction.

I highly recommend THE LEOPARD. It is not only a cracker-jack crime/thriller, but also a tragedy about modern society. Grab Jo NesbÝ's THE SNOWMAN. It is a superb crime/thriller and is in many respects part 1 of THE LEOPARD. I can't wait for the next Harry Hole novel. Until then, I'm rereading THE LEOPARD and THE SNOWMAN, NesbÝ is that good.

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