This is my review of The Leopard: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 6) by Jo Nesbo.
Compulsive reading but often distasteful and utterly implausible. The opening pages seem to display the trademark features of a Harry Hole novel: the author enters the mind of a victim about to die horribly by an unusual and horrible device, then switches directly to the mind of, it seems, the crazy serial killer.
Yet I soon began to notice a difference. Perhaps with a film script in mind, or in order to appeal to an even larger international audience – people with a reading age of eight- Nesbo forsakes his customary interweaving of past and present for a straightforward linear plot – less confusing, but also less interesting. The style is slick and thin – short paragraphs, staccato sentences and few of the references to life in Norway that give the earlier novels a distinctive touch. At times, it verges on the cartoonish: "Harry Hole, she thought. Gotcha." There is too much of the corny: one of the first of the rare "lengthy" descriptions is of the improbably beautiful and sensitive new female detective sidekick Kaja.
So, I almost decided to give up on this book which seemed on balance no better than a run-of-the-mill,crudely written, casually brutal pulp fiction pot boiler.
Then, the twists in the plot began to catch my interest. I found myself reading on to discover how on earth Harry would get out of the next hole – is that a reason for his name? – how some fresh conundrum would be solved, or which of the possible villians would turn out to be a red herring, which for real.
As ever, this often crass and amoral tale throws up some intriguing twists such as the murderer who is manipulated out of revenge by a man he has wronged, and touches on philosophical questions, such as whether and when mercy killing can be justified. I just wish these could be developed a little more thoughtfully.
There is clearly space in the overall scheme for at least one more Harry Hole novel, but is it time to take last orders on this series? Is it all getting too formulaic? Also, Harry's liver must be on the brink of giving out. It is increasingly hard to believe that this mutiliated and scarred character can appeal to a string of beautiful woman, and retain the physical strength to escape from tight corners and fight off powerful adversaries.
This overlong novel hiccups to a close with "just one more chapter" to dot another "i" or cross a "t". Nesbo seems too involved in his flawed creation to call it a day…..