Another spooky gothic by Norwegian gloomster Nesbø (The Snowman, 2011, etc.), the poet laureate of boreal psychopathy.
If there were a dictionary-definition image for numbed world-weariness, Oslo detective Harry Hole would be it, in just the way that Edvard Munch’s The Scream is the canonical image of terror. (When the film is made, only the Stellan Skarsgård of Insomnia will do.) As Nesbø’s newest procedural opens, Hole has taken himself into a Hong Kong exile, where he ponders the smog that builds up thicker and thicker from mainland China and fills his own modest room with the smoke from his opium water pipe. Enter Kaja Solness, Oslo gumshoe extraordinaire, who needs to find him immediately. Naturally, something very ugly has happened back home; a murder bloody enough to make a Viking of yore lose his lunch has occurred, involving a cruel instrument of torture that shoots out metal spikes: “Two needles pierced the windpipe and one the right eye, one the left. Several needles penetrated the rear part of the palate and reached the brain.” Yuck. Only Hole, it seems, can divine the mind of someone sick enough to pull off such a thing, and once Hole, plagued by the memories of earlier murders and a constant craving for drink and smoke, is pulled into the case early on in the novel, it’s all a go-go-go rush across the continents: Europe, of course, and Asia, but also Africa, where an ugly war is raging off in some backwater of the Congo and where, it develops, a person of interest is conducting a nasty trade. It is vintage Nesbø to throw in red herrings and MacGuffins, but also to have Hole engage in a little John Woo–style dance, cop and suspect, in which the bad guy has a definite chance of taking out the good one. Nesbø’s formula includes plenty of participation by Kaja, a very capable woman, and plenty of current geopolitical backdrop, making Nesbø a worthy mysterian-cum-social-critic in the Stieg Larsson tradition. But will good prevail? It’s anything but a foregone conclusion.
Good for a nightmare or three—a taut, fast-paced thriller with wrenching twists and turns.