“A red-hot burning hatred…is the stuff of survival, it’s the magma inside that keeps [the killer] warm. And, just like magma, hatred is a precondition of life, so that everything doesn’t freeze to ice. At the same time the pressure from the internal heat will inevitably lead to an eruption, the destructive element will be released. And the longer it goes without an eruption the more violent it will be.”
Anyone who is already a fan of Jo Nesbo and his nail-biting Nordic noir mysteries will enjoy this non-stop, action-packed continuation of the Harry Hole series. Many of the familiar characters (and enemies) are back as Harry is persuaded to return from Hong Kong, where he has been spending his “hiatus” from the Oslo Crime Squad in an alcoholic haze. He is now in debt to the Hong Kong Triad, which as taken his passport to prevent his leaving without paying his debts. Three gruesome murders have taken place back in Oslo while he has been gone, however, and investigators are exploring the possibility of yet another serial killer on the loose. Harry Hole is the best in the business in tracking down serial killers, having just resolved the case of The Snowman, a particularly vicious killer of women, and the Oslo Crime Squad wants him back.
When Harry returns, he discovers that the Crime Squad, for which he has worked for much of his life, is now in danger of being absorbed into a centralized national system, a part of Kripos, under a Ministry of Justice reorganization. Promotion within the new system seems to be based on who can capture the most publicity and take the greatest amount of credit. The jealousies and internal corruption which Harry has already seen within the police organization is partly responsible for his abandonment of Oslo after the Snowman case, and he does not hold out high hopes for a satisfactory return to work. Kripos has seized control of this murder investigation, relegating Harry to a tiny, windowless office in the basement of Botsen Prison, adjacent to police headquarters, and giving him only three helpers.
His personal life is a mess. He thinks of himself as “the most disciplined drug abuser he knew. He could predetermine his dose of alcohol and stop there, however plastered he was.” The loves of his life, Rakel and her son Oleg, had recently been used as pawns by the psychopathic Snowman, and that, in combination with Harry’s inability to stay sober, have led to Rakel’s abandonment of Harry and her relocation somewhere “away”, somewhere safe—and unknown. In addition to this, Harry’s father is dying a slow, lingering death, and Harry is unable to be as helpful to his younger sister as he would like to be.
As the murders continue and become even more bizarre, the case becomes more complex. Harry soon suspects that one of his hand-picked assistants on the case is feeding information to Kripos, which is leaking it to the press, thereby jeopardizing Harry’s investigation (which Kripos wants to take credit for). Unlike previous cases he has worked on, the murders here are not limited to women, and Harry discovers that the only thing the victims have in common is that they were all at the same ski cabin at the same time a few weeks ago. With eight people of very different backgrounds there at the same time, Harry and his squad are hard pressed to discover any motive for these killings, making it more difficult to try to protect the remaining skiers from grotesque deaths.
The investigation eventually takes Harry and Kaja Solness, an assistant, to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in search of information about the killer, who has used “Leopold’s apple,” a particularly gruesome torture device made famous by King Leopold II during the Belgian colonization of the Congo, in at least three of the murders. Harry is beaten and battered there, as well as throughout this investigation, giving as much as he gets, and as the novel winds up, Harry Hole begins to look tired and defeated, unable to function as a normal human being, a man whose only wish is for an “armoured heart.” For him, “[Life was] a process of destruction, a disintegration from what at the outset was perfect. The only suspense involved was whether we would be destroyed in one sudden act or slowly. It was a sad thought. Yet he clung to it.”
By far the most complicated of the Harry Hole novels so far, this one is a special challenge at six hundred eleven pages (UK edition). The cast of characters is huge, and though one gets some description of each character and makes assumptions about them based on their actions, the author throws all expectations to the wind, twisting and turning the action and filling the novel with surprises, showing characters to be different from what he has led us to expect, adding more complexities to an already very intricate plot, and leading us to make false conclusions about the killer’s identity. While surprises are obviously an integral part of all mysteries, this one so packed with them that the novel becomes a bit wearisome, and the plot becomes far-fetched and difficult to follow. The killer’s own musings appear throughout, as do Harry’s nightmares, which blend into reality, adding yet more detail to obscure the basic plot line.
Those who have read the previous Harry Hole novels, especially The Snowman, will have a much easier time with this overburdened plot as it swirls around and shifts directions, since they will know some of the characters and understand the references. The travels between Hong Kong and Africa add some atmosphere, but the best and most thoughtful scenes are those which are set in Norway, as they involve characters who feel real. Ultimately, I found myself wanting the author to cut at least a hundred pages from this book, simplifying some of the plot lines and beefing up the characters so that the novel became more thoughtful, better integrated, and less of a sensational “surprise fest.”
Photos, in order:
The author’s photo is from http://www.aesvc.com
Botsen Prison appears on http://oslo-daily-photo.blogspot.com
The photo of the Nyiragongo volcano in Goma, a site of some action during the book, is from http://jtkiwi.wordpress.com
“Leopold’s apple” is shown on http://en.wikipedia.org. According to an article on Wikipedia, between two million and fifteen million native Congolese were killed during King Leopold II’s colonization of The Congo: http://en.wikipedia.org