Thursday, March 31, 2011

THE LEOPARD: JO NESBO



'My name is Kaja Solness. I have been tasked with finding you. By Gunnar Hagen.'
No reaction to the name of his Crime Squad boss. Had he gone?

Detective Harry Hole deeply traumatised by the events of The Snowman investigation is hiding out in the opium dens of Hong Kong. When the beautiful Kaja Solness tells Harry his father Olav is dying, he agrees to return to Oslo and investigate the murders of two women, found with twenty four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood.
There are more murders and as the body count rises Harry, with the aid of the 'safely sectioned' Katrine Bratt's internet search skills, finds a connection between the victims. [Police colleague Katrine Bratt featured in The Snowman]
They all spent one night at the Havass mountain cabin, and so the story becomes an updated version of the old English country house mystery so popular in the Golden Age.

While trying to find the other occupants of the cabin, potential victims or perpetrators, Harry becomes involved in the political battle between Crime Squad, and Kripos lead by the charismatically handsome Mikael Bellman, a man with few scruples and boundless ambition.

'So if you can use this to outsmart the smart-arse and it leads to Bellman's plans for the evil empire being shelved, accept it with my blessing.'

This is a book about human relationships and what can develop from them; love, hate, vengeance, greed, ambition, humiliation, fear, and loneliness. The whole panoply of emotions felt from youth to old age and I should warn that is also a rather violent book, and contains just a few passages involving torture. The action takes place briefly in Hong Kong, mostly in Norway and then partly in the Congo, with a large cast of sharply drawn, but mostly unsympathetic characters.
The Leopard is a very long book [611 pages] that proved to be a very fast read because I was so completely engrossed in the characters, complexity of the plot and the various subplots. Definitely a page turner!
Jo Nesbo, aided by an excellent translation from Don Bartlett, teases the reader with plot twists and turns, providing a different solution to the crimes, and then taking the story back to change this again, and again, until the reader is left almost giddy. In what has become almost a trademark style he seemingly finishes the story, and then restarts it again to reach a slightly different ending.

Harry Hole, his character and his internal struggle, is the glue that holds this series together. Harry is tied up in a battle of intellects with both the perpetrator and with Bellman. The conflict is exacerbated because it seems Bellman has everything Harry lacks, position, power, wife, family, children, henchmen, and mistress. But Harry cares about people, Olav his father, Sis his sister with her 'little touch of Down's syndrome', his lost love Rakel and her son Oleg, his friend Oystein and his colleagues and this makes him vulnerable.
Will Harry find the perpetrator before Mikael Bellman, who seems to know the Crime Squad's moves before they happen? Why are the occupants of the Havass cabin being murdered one by one? What is the terrible connection with the Congo?

Right from the dismantling of colonialist governments in the sixties, they have used white people's feelings of guilt to acquire power, so that the real exploitation of the population could begin.

I can highly recommend The Leopard, despite the torture passages, and also the entire Harry Hole series as one of the best in modern crime fiction. Ignore the Next Stieg Larsson blurb Jo Nesbo is a unique talent, and Harry Hole one of my favourite detectives.

'You know me,' Harry said as Oystein stopped on red outside the Radisson SAS Hotel.
'I bloody do not,' Oystein said, sprinkling tobacco into his roll-up.
'How would I?'
'Well, we grew up together. Do you remember?'
'So? You were already a sodding enigma then, Harry.'

The Harry Hole series [books one and two are yet to be translated into English]


12 Comments:

Blogger Maxine said...

Superb review, Norman! I am not sure that I quite agree that this is the best crime-fiction series being written currently, but I agree that it is very good, largely because of Harry Hole and his circle; and the plotting. The sense of location is also well done. If only the author could drop the scholck horror/torture aspects ---- presumably it is thought to help sales (how sad).

9:32 AM  
Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - An excellent review! Thank you :-). I agree completely with Maxine (and you!) that Harry Hole's character is very well-done. It's one of the best things about this series. I've not yet read The Leopard, and to be honest, I am not much of a one for torture scenes. Not necessary, says I. But I am looking forward to reading this.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Norman - I'm saving you review until I read The Leopard.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Well, even though I fear there are scenes I won´t like, I suppose I´ll have to read this one also.

But ´keeping Harry in order´ - aren´t you a bit optimistic there? ;)

11:20 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much Maxine. I had not read anything about the book except your comment on torture. I was a bit worried about that element, but I saw that Karen had named The Leopard as her best read of the year. My library assistant step daughter tells me you get more used to torture working in a library. ;O)

11:46 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. The plot twists and Harry and Mikael Bellman's conflict are the best part of the book, and the few pages of torture in 611 can be read quickly.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Jose Ignacio, I tried to avoid giving much of account of the plot because the brilliant twists are so much of the enjoyment in reading the Harry Hole books.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte I think you will enjoy this despite those few scenes.

I am still an optimist despite life not being very kind, otherwise I would end up like Harry.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Norman, I know life seems very unkind sometimes, but it is good for me and all your other blog friends to see these glimpses of your optimism!

2:20 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, I am a convert to Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, having just stayed up nights to finish "The Nemesis."

It is a brilliant book, with a denouement so intelligentky done, that it blew me away. And, as you state, there is a solution, then a twist on that, then another one. My mind boggles.

Am trying to figure out which one to read next, since my library has very few copies of very few books. So the Book Depository may be in my near future.

I am now wary of "The Leopard," since I can't stand violence, certainly not torture. But my method when I encounter this--and even with parts of Larsson's trilogy--is to skip those scenes. There is a limit to what I can tolerate.

A number of my women friends who read mysteries and thrillers just skip sections or pages of brutal violence.

But I'm hooked nevertheless. Don't think Nesbo's is the best crime series, but is among the top contenders; that is for sure.

Now I need Teresa Solana's second book, to switch to pleasantries, humor and barely any violence. I just happen to have it newly arrived from the Book Depository.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy you should read the Nesbos in order, next The Devil's Star.
But I agree after a Nesbo you need something a lot lighter.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Will get The Devil's Star, but will have to buy it, as my library doesn't have it, maddeningly.

So, Teresa Solana here I come. Or The Case of the Poisoned Chocolate, which I happen to have.

3:35 AM  

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