This is my review of The Redeemer: Harry Hole 6 by Jo Nesbo.
This fourth novel in the Harry Hole series to be translated into English continues the pattern one has learned to expect from Nesbo – imaginative, slightly zany, an enthusiastic outpouring of words which on balance wins you over, so that you are prepared to overlook the shortcomings of the writing style.
The formula includes a carefully constructed, convoluted plot in which, despite the numerous twists, all the details tie up, although some remain highly implausible. Add to this moments of high tension and suspense, increased by the ruthless willingness to sacrifice any character, bar the teflon Harry himself. Then there is the continual shifting back and forth in time, and between characters, which can be confusing and call for sustained concentration – in one early chapter there are no less than three separate "he's" travelling across cities to make visits for reasons that are as yet unclear.
Vivid evocations of the intense cold of the Norwegian winter combine with appealing little descriptions of say, the senior Salvation Army official fishing through a hole in ice so thin that he wears skis to spread his weight. An insight into a world of drug addiction and corruption may come as a surprise from beneath the smooth surface of what I have long assumed to be one of the most orderly and civilised nations in the world.
Focus on topical themes is in this case on the Salvation Army dedicated to helping down-and-outs in Oslo, and Croatian immigrants trying to make a life in the aftermath of the vicious war with the Serbs.
Last but not least is a sense of ambivalence over the quality of the writing: quite literary in a dark Scandinavian way at times; original, as in the description of the cliffs with a "comb-over" of grass, yet too often the flow is impeded by clunky or cheesy passages which make you wince.
Overall, "The Redeemer" may be better than its three predecessors, in that the plot is more ingenious and convincing, turning as it does on the murder of a young salvation army officer at the hands of a Croatian hitman. Also, there seems to be more character development and shading between simplistic "black and white wrong and right." For instance, the hitman is portrayed as a complex and in some ways even sympathetic personality as one discovers the events which have shaped him, and can feel for him as he suffers increasing hardship in his efforts to escape capture in Oslo in order to complete his mission, as his plans suffer a series of setbacks.
However, the sheer size of the cast leaves little space for more than sketchily drawn stereotypes or cardboard characters in many cases – it is at times like a crime soap in which certain characters take a back-seat for a while. I did not find the behaviour of the real villain (whose identity I cannot reveal) very convincing.
Like many page-turners, the ending may disappoint you a little, but I liked the touch of ambiguity and scope for "moral debate" in the final pages which raise this thriller slightly above the "get the villain against the odds" norm.