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by Jo Nesbø AND Don Bartlett, trans.
Harper, January 2009
474 pages
ISBN: 0061655503

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Revenge is symmetrical by its very nature: tit for tat, an eye for an eye. It's an elemental form of justice, simple, brutal, and unforgiving. There is a lot of symmetry in the construction of NEMESIS, the third of Jo Nesbø's novels to be translated into English. But there is nothing simple about justice in Nesbø's world.

As the book opens, Oslo violent crimes detective Harry Hole (pronounced "hurler") is watching a bank robbery unfold, second by second. It is an exceptionally well-planned robbery, and it ends in cold murder as the highly professional thief executes a bank clerk. Harry pursues the homicide inquiry in parallel (and sometimes at odds with) the robbery squad, who believe the heist to be the work of a legendary bank robber. Harry is helped by Beate Lønn, who literally never forgets a face, and by a brilliant gypsy convict who plays a mean game of chess and always seems one jump ahead of the police.

While Harry investigates the robbery/homicide, he misses his girlfriend, who is in Moscow fighting for custody of her child. When he accepts an invitation from old flame to get together against his better judgment, he wakes up the next day with a headache and no memory of leaving his old girlfriend's apartment. He worries he's tumbled off the wagon and is suffering from a drunken blackout. But when she's found murdered in her apartment, he wonders what else went wrong that night. This gap in his memory is an opportunity for his old enemy, Tom Waaler, to get the better of him in an ongoing duel of wits that has developed through the series.

Harry risks being a walking cliché: a troubled but gifted alcoholic who not only fights crime, but has to battle corruption and complacency among his own colleagues. But Nesbø breathes life into his lead character, and into everyone around him. Though Nesbø's plots are always complex, intricately assembled and set in motion like a tightly-wound clock, ticking toward the moment of detonation, they avoid being too schematic, too symmetrical, because the characters are so human. They are long books, but though they are dense with relationships and plot developments, they move with agility.

The previous books in the series, THE DEVIL'S STAR and THE REDBREAST, involved more sensational crimes: a serial killer with Satanic overtones in one case and a political assassination in the other. But in Nesbø's hands, a bank robbery gone wrong is just as consequential, a battle between retribution in its most brutal, atavistic form and a more forgiving kind of justice.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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