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(A Harry Hole Mystery)
By Jo NesbÝ
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
First Harper mass-market printing: September 2011 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
Harry Hole has screwed up a high profile international assignment. With a perverted sense of logic that is commonly used by top governmental officials, Hole is not fired. He is not even demoted or suspended. Harry is promoted to Inspector and reassigned from the Crime Squad to the prestigious Security Service. The reality is that the powers want to sweep Harry under a rug and make him go away. Harry's new job, despite the title, is make-work. All he does is read and pass on reports. Harry being Harry is not content to draw a larger salary for a do-nothing job. When he complains, Harry's boss assigns him to infiltrate the local Neo-Nazis contingent. This fringe extremist group is making noise about the upcoming Independence Day Parade in Oslo. Seems the Muslim population has made it known they would not be having their children in the traditional, patriotic parade to the Palace. The reason is their religious holiday of Eid (the Muslim's Christmas Eve) happens on this year to coincide with the Parade. The Neo-Nazi have put up posters saying that it is an insult to your host country not to celebrate anything other than Norwegian Independence Day on 17 May. Further the poster says blacks are happy to claim benefits, but shirk every Norwegian citizen's obligation.
Harry complains he is not an undercover cop, and Harry lets his boss know this is more make-work. Harry will accept the assignment if he is allowed to follow up on the suspected illegal import of a highly specialized and expensive sniper rifle used by terrorists for assassinations. Harry's boss argues that the illegal rifle is a minor affair for Customs and Excise and not what the Security Services investigates. But Harry has a gut feeling about the rifle.
The investigation of Norway's Neo-Nazis movement and the assassin's rifle takes Harry Hole into the bitter and unresolved controversy of Norway's involvement with Nazi Germany during World War II. Several unsolved murders involving in one way or another Norway's Neo-Nazi faction sets Harry Hole on the scent of a monstrous plot rooted in World War II. The myth that Norway was a staunch ally with the West with a vast resistance movement similar to occupied France was just that, a myth. The royal family and government of Norway fled to England during Norway's occupation by the Germans. For most Norwegians, collaboration with the occupying Germans was the norm. A minority volunteered to fight along side the Germans against Communist Russia. These few believed themselves to be the true patriots of Norway. They did not flee to England but put their lives on the Eastern Front to defeat Communism. But the victors write the history books. For their patriotism, those Norwegians who fought against Communist Russia were branded traitors after the war. Many were brought before the courts and given sentences in prison. Even after serving their jail term, they would forever be outcasts in the country they fought to protect. Some one after all these years wants to settle the score. Harry's hunt will touch him professionally and personally.
In THE REDBREAST, Jo NesbÝ has demonstrated he is one of the current masters of the crime genre. Like NesbÝ's other Harry Hole mystery THE SNOWMAN, NesbÝ uses the genre to address wider cultural and European issues. His books cut through to the identity of the "new" Norway, and for that matter, the 21st century European community. This book in particular is very personal for the author. It tells his father's story of being a soldier fighting on the Eastern Front during World War II.
What makes the Harry Hole series a success is NesbÝ's ability to create convincing characters under stress. He has an uncanny insight into seemingly all walks of life. His special connection is with the down and out, the castoffs and lowlifes. NesbÝ's masterpiece of characterization is Harry Hole himself. The author has managed to make the dysfunctional and alcoholic Harry Hole sympathetic. The reader roots for Harry, who doesn't root for himself.
Though I enjoyed THE REDBREAST, I have one reservation about the book. About one third of the book is set during World War II. The wartime story sometimes goes on for several chapters one after the other. Though I liked the war sections, I found being yanked from the present to the past often broke the suspense and pace of the plot during the early part of the book.
Harry Hole novels by first publication dates:
1997 - The Bat Man
1998 - The Cockroaches
2000 - The Redbreast
2002 - Nemesis
2003 - The Devil's Star
2005 - The Redeemer
2007 - The Snowman (Please click on title for review.)
2009 - The Leopard
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