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by Jo Nesbø and Don Bartlett, trans.
Knopf, October 2013
436 pages
ISBN: 0307960498

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One of the reasons Jo Nesbø is an internationally popular author is that he pays equal attention to plot and character (if very little to plausibility). Though Harry Hole is a walking set of clichés – a brilliant loner who has problems with alcohol and authority – he's a vividly animated and entertaining homage to the classic maverick cop, a mixture of Rebus and Bosch, with a large helping of Matt Scudder, set off against a recurring cast of well-developed characters. The novels in the series are lengthy but fast-paced puzzles, packed with switchbacks and cliff hangers, traversing a complex landscape and accelerating to a page-turning climax.

POLICE has all of that, but with one noticeable difference. The usual cast is assembled, but their loner leader is absent. Nobody knows where he is or if he's alive. The reader knows a little bit more – that an unnamed man is in a coma, guarded constantly by police. His identity is equally well-guarded from the reader.

As usual, a perplexing case has come to light, as Norway is unusually prone to serial killers. A police officer is found battered to death at the scene of a case he had investigated years earlier but hadn't solved. It happens again - and then a third time. For complicated reasons the most talented investigators are brought together to work on the case in an unofficial, mostly unauthorized way. Though they lack their charismatic, enigmatic leader, Hole, they do their best to make headway. Beatte Lønn (who never forgets a face, literally), Katrine Bratte (a mercurial and brilliant detective from Bergen) and Stale Aune (a weary psychologist with keen insight into the depths of human depravity) have a chance to occupy the foreground even as they feel Harry's absence.

As has been the case in previous books in the series, there is another dramatic arc that crosses several books, one that pits decent police against ambitious and crooked ones. As the group of investigators tries to uncover a killer who marks the anniversaries of failed investigations by luring police to violent deaths, the poisonous relationships among members of the brass and their henchmen are trending toward disaster. There is also a subplot involving an unhinged female police cadet whose infatuation with an unavailable man is leading toward violence (while, no doubt, leading to exasperation among many readers who are tired of male wish-fulfillment making an appearance in their books).

Though Nesbø is always up for inventive crimes and unexpected twists, the machinery sometimes shows. Readers are repeatedly taken to a cliff's edge and left hanging, squealing with delight, but already anticipating the next cliff. The sleight-of-hand tricks – look, over there! - are more mechanical than magical. Some readers may begin to resent the obvious ways in which their emotions are being manipulated, but others will be delighted by the ride, feeling only a tinge of disappointment at the end because they want to get on again and can't. Indeed, the final paragraphs are so conclusive, it may indeed be the end – unless, of course, it's another bit of Nesbø's narrative trickery.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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