Larissa's Reviews > The Redbreast

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø
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Oct 31, 08

bookshelves: nordic, crime-fiction, 2008, in-translation, police-procedural, norwegian
Read in October, 2008

Weaving together neo-Nazi drama, a tragic WWII love story, and police-force intrigue, Jo Nesbø’s internationally acclaimed novel, The Redbreast, certainly has a lot to recommend it, even if the final effect is somewhat anti-climactic. Our protagonist is the rough-edged Harry Hole (pronounced, I believe, along the lines of ‘Herler,’ though anyone who speaks Norwegian is encouraged to correct me), a semi-recovering (and frequently relapsing) alcoholic chain smoker who, due to his unorthodox methods (he’s a loose cannon!), finds new and creative ways to solve crimes, and occasionally make disastrous missteps. In the opening segment of the novel—arguably the best part of the book—we find Hole and the rest of the Oslo police force coordinating protection for the American president, who has come to Norway to attend a summit with various important world leaders (everyone except for the president, interestingly enough, is named…). A dire error on Hole’s part during this operation earns him a politically-motivated, but entirely unwanted and undeserved promotion, and also provides Nesbø with an opening to completely shift the focus of the novel.

As this promotion allows an entirely new and somewhat unrelated plot to take over the rest of the novel, one might wonder why Nesbø bothered to develop his first line of inquiry—a perfectly serviceable (and possibly preferable?) story about contemporary neo-Nazis in Oslo and bureaucratic corruption within the police force. But of course, we must remember that while it’s the first Hole novel to be translated into English, The Redbreast is actually third in Nesbø’s series. So perhaps this promotion and change of scene plays on a much more dramatic and grand scale for readers who have the requisite background…(Foiled again by a lack of translation!)

Although I was certainly fascinated by new factoids about Norway’s role in WWII, however, I have to admit that I was almost entirely uninterested by the romantic back story that ends up playing such a huge role in the novel. Moreover, I am ready to issue an edict that any novel that finds it appropriate to unleash a Multiple Personality Cop-Out over 400 pages into a novel should be issued with a disclaimer on the cover. (Especially when it’s introduced with a flippant remark about the fact that it’s far less frequent an occurrence than Hollywood movies would have us believe…Ha. Ha.) It’s a lazy plot device for lazy writers, and frankly, with all the balls that Nesbø had in the air, there was absolutely no need to make use of such a tired ‘twist’ ending. Especially—I repeat—after I’ve read 400 pages.

I should note, however, that Nesbø makes some truly delightful shout-outs to Prince, and the secondary plotline—which introduces a completely nefarious corrupt cop—is actually really interesting. In that this plotline and the ensuing chaos is left unresolved (and apparently becomes the crux of some of the other novels in the series), I’d actually be willing to give another one of Nesbø’s Hole novels a go.
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