'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]