Archive for the ‘Harry Hole’ Category


Karen of Euro Crime has met with the three knowledgeable judges: Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall and Sarah Ward to determine the shortlist for the 2014 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

Karen also asked which books readers would have on the shortlist, and which would be our winner. I haven’t read as much Scandinavian crime fiction as in previous years, but I am always willing to give my opinion. I think there are five outstanding eligible books that should be on that shortlist, and frankly I could not pick a winner as you could make a case for any of them as worthy recipients of the award. 

Lifetime: Liza Marklund trans Neil Smith [In my opinion you really can’t have a Petrona shortlist without an Annika Bengtzon book because Maxine Clarke, for whom the award is dedicated, liked that series so much]

The Strangler’s Honeymoon: Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson

Police: Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett [Maxine’s favourite translator]

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst: Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce

Linda, As In The Linda Murder: Leif G.W. Persson trans Neil Smith

I am looking forward to discovering the real Petrona shortlist next month with the winner announced at Crime Fest-Bristol in May.  





Karen at Euro Crime is running a feature on the Euro Crime Reviewers 5 favourite reads of 2013

My own five favourite books of 2013 were:

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas translator Sian Reynolds

This book was joint winner of the CWA International Dagger as Vargas intrigues and teases the reader with more Gallic quirkiness. 

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris  

A superb novel retelling the true story of the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of Georges Picquart. The truth proves to be more astonishing than any fictional plot dreamt up by an author.

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller  

A brilliant novel about loss and ageing that made me both laugh and cry. Definitely one not to be missed and on many people’s best of year lists.

Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget translated by Steven Rendall

My discovery of the year, and hopefully this debut novel will be the start of a fine police procedural series set in Perpignan.

Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W.Persson translated by Neil Smith

The first in the Evert Backstrom trilogy featuring an obnoxious character you won’t easily forget.


 There were several fine books that after some thought and a lot of prevarication just failed to make that top five.

These included:

Blessed Are Those That Thirst by Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce-The second book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes- A psychological thriller that gripped this reader.

Black Bear by Aly Monroe- The return of Peter Cotton in a spy story set in post war America.

Police by Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett- A fine come back by Jo Nesbo after a couple of novels that were in my opinion not up to his usual standard.

Alex by Pierre LeMaitre trans Frank Wynne- A French police procedural with a clever twist and the joint winner of the CWA International Dagger. 

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson- The Van Veeteren series is consistently satisfying with one of the most interesting team of detectives ever created.

 Moving on to new publications in 2014.

Thanks to the hardworking Karen at Euro Crime for producing a lengthy list of the new releases in 2014. I am particularly looking forward to reading:

Deon Meyer, Cobra

Asa Larsson, The Second Deadly Sin

Hakan Nesser, The G File

Leif G.W. Persson, Falling Freely As If In A Dream

Liza Marklund, Borderline  

Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, Winter Siege

51OKxEMZRZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_In an Oslo hospital a man lies in a coma guarded by police officers, while cops are being murdered at the scenes of deadly crimes that police investigated but failed to solve. The media are going into a frenzy. 

The best that could be said about this case was that it had brought the two big murder investigation units in Norway-Crime Squad and Kripos-closer together. All rivalry had been cast aside, and for once they were collaborating, with no other agenda than to find the person who had killed their colleague.

I am not going to summarise the plot any further because of the  risk of enclosing any spoilers. The plot of Police is a trip of discovery, as Jo Nesbo tries to mystify, tease, confuse and even scare his readers. There is violence in the book and some of it is upsetting and tragic, but crime fiction has to reflect the society we live in.

Can any violence shock people after the trial of Anders Breivik? The way the prosecutors and court appointed psychiatrists lined up to shake Breivik’s hand before proceedings was more bizarre than any of the strange goings on in Jo Nesbo’s novels.

Although I had worked out [OK guessed] the perpetrator in Police quite early on I was constantly surprised and never quite sure where the plot was taking me. Nesbo is the master of the climax and the anti-climax. In other words Police is a real “page turner”. What makes Nesbo’s plots particularly interesting is that he is never afraid to take an unpopular position or even do something that will upset his readers. 

But convoluted plots alone would not make the Harry Hole series one of the best in European crime fiction, it is his characters that take these books on to a different level. Nesbo creates people you grow to love, and some that you hate with all your being. And as in real life the good don’t always prosper and villains don’t always look like villains and frequently are successful in their professional lives. Characters such as Mikael Bellman and Isabelle Skoyen are dreadful human beings but very believable.

Jo Nesbo’s style may be an acquired taste but I thought Police was a return to very nearly his best work and read the 518 pages in record time!

‘Good leaders know how to inspire their teams.’

Hagen swallowed. Swallowed what he wanted to say. That he was lecturing on leadership at the military academy while Bellman was running around with a catapult. That if Bellman was so bloody good at inspiring his subordinates, how about inspiring him-Gunnar Hagen?      

P1040587As part of my weight training program I lifted four books I intend to read over the next few weeks [ authored by Jo Nesbo, Leif G.W.Persson, Hakan Nesser and Robert Harris] in order to photograph them with a few older books authored by people who also sold a few books in their time. 

With the Man Booker Prize going to young Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries, a nineteenth century murder mystery, that weighs in at 832 pages I wonder if this is all part of a cunning plot to sell Kindles, and other electronic reading devices. Readers faced with such huge books will have no choice but to download an electronic version, or face permanent wrist and shoulder pain. 

It was really no contest as to my favourite crime fiction read in October as I read only two fiction books. [I also read two excellent non fiction books but more about those later]

Jo Nesbo’s The Bat was by far the superior of the two crime books as the other, Autumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft* was disappointing and not my cup of tea. 

*review to follow soon

Updating the Harry Hole series [book two is yet to be translated into English]
I have just finished reading the first book in the Harry Hole series, The Bat, first published in Norwegian in 1997, and the winner of the Nordic Glass Key in 1998.
 A young blonde Norwegian girl, Inger Holter, has been murdered and Harry is sent to Sydney to assist the local police. There he meets Andrew, an indigenous Australian policeman, from whom he learns some of the culture and traditions of the aboriginal people. Harry has a romantic affair with Birgitta, a beautiful Swedish girl who works in a bar, and unfortunately resumes a meaningful relationship with his very best friend, Jim Beam. 
Although this book, brilliantly translated as usual by Don Bartlett, is slightly raw, and at times is a bit like a travel guide of Sydney all the  potential that will be realised in the Oslo Trilogy [ The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star] and The Snowman is there. Harry’s character is almost fully developed; his love of his sister who has “a touch of Down’s Syndrome”, his insubordination, his problems with women, and his alcoholism. 
You‘re a tiny bit damaged every time you unravel another murder case. Unfortunately as a rule there are more human wrecks and sadder stories, and fewer ingenious motives, than you would imagine from reading Agatha Christie.’ 
Jo Nesbo’s technique of making you think the story is over when you can see a few hundred pages still to go, his plot twists, and surprises are there although not as polished as in the later books. The story is told entirely from Harry’s perspective which is a nice change from books that switch around with mind blowing speed. 
Even though this novel is 15 years old it is still a very good example of Jo Nesbo’s talented writing, and well worth reading for the information it relates about Australian society and little glimpses of Nesbo’s humour that will lighten the violence in the later books.
‘There was always a variety of nationalities-Chinese, Italians, Greeks. And Aboriginals. In those days volunteers could choose who they wanted to box. So, for example, if you were an anti-Semite, you could pick a Jew. Even though the chances of being beaten up by a Jew were pretty high.’ Harry chuckled.        

Empathy with Harry Hole

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Australia, Harry Hole, Norway

I am about half way through Jo Nesbo’s first Harry Hole thriller The Bat [ translated brilliantly as usual by Don Bartlett] and can clearly see the signs of the future clever twists and turns that feature in his later brilliant Oslo Trilogy [The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star]. 

The Bat [Flaggermusmannen] is set in Australia winning the Nordic Glass Key back in 1998, and harks back to that distant time when there was an Australian cricket team.

The owner of the Cricket was also the proud owner of the shirt Allan Border wore when Australia beat England four times during the 1989 Ashes series.

But it was not the ancient cricket references that grabbed my interest, but Harry’s sensible analysis of cinema history.

There were no pictures on the wall, just a poster of Braveheart with Mel Gibson-which Harry remembered only for some incomprehensible reason it won an Oscar for Best Film. Bad taste, as far as films go, he thought. And men. Harry was one of those who felt personally let down when Mad max made a Hollywood star out of him. 

Trackers: Deon Meyer translator K.L.Seegers

The Potter’s Field: Andrea Camilleri translator Stephen Sartarelli

Phantom: Jo Nesbo translator Don Bartlett

Until Thy Wrath Be Past: Asa Larsson translator Laurie Thompson

I Will Have Vengeance: Maurizio De Giovanni translator Anne Milano Appel

The Dark Valley: Valerio Varesi translator Joseph Farrell

This is the official CWA International Dagger Shortlist of which I have now read five out of the six. I am not going to read The Dark Valley as I don’t think it is a contender based on Maxine of Petrona’s excellent review, and my own reading of the first book in the series, River of Shadows.

Of the remaining five books I really enjoyed I Will Have Vengeance, which is also shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Award, and was pleasantly surprised it was shortlisted for the International Dagger. My own personal interests in Italian opera and Italian history [and Italian food] were obviously shared by the judges. 

The Potter’s Field is the best and funniest offering from Andrea Camilleri in the Montalbano series for some time, and perhaps a good outside bet.

Phantom seems to have a big following in the Eurocrime polls, but I was a little disappointed with this one. It lacked the cleverly intertwined plot of Trackers, or the atmospheric feeling and tension of Until Thy Wrath Be Past. I may well be in a minority of one on this, but I will be shocked if a brilliant book like Trackers does not get the recognition and the award it deserves. The result will be announced on the 7 July 2012, along with the Ellis Peters Historical Award. [more on that later in the month]

In Phantom [the 7th Harry Hole book to be translated into English] a cleaned up sober Harry Hole returns to Oslo to investigate  the shooting of a handsome young  junkie, Gusto Hanssen. The case has already been solved and another young addict is being held for the crime. Harry is personally involved, but told not to investigate this case by his old boss. From the moment he came back Harry was being watched by the forces that now dominate Oslo’s drug scene, the suppliers of a new very addictive synthetic drug called ‘violin’.

Harry begins a personal odyssey through the dark side of city he once knew so well in order to discover who really killed Gusto.

‘Mm. Thought it was just Moroccans who sold hash here.’

‘Competition has moved in. Kosovar Albanians, Somalis, Eastern Europeans. Asylum seekers selling the whole spectrum. Speed , methamphetamine, Ecstasy, morphine.’  

The narrative is in two parts with Gusto telling his story in flashbacks as he lies bleeding to death, and Harry in the present coming across old friends, old adversaries, and police and political corruption in his quest to uncover the truth. Harry wants to find the real murderer and in the process unmask the drug lord known as Dubai [from the Fly Emirates Arsenal shirts his pushers wear], and also as the Phantom because he is said to wander the city at night.

Despite the book’s length the smooth translation by Don Bartlett makes this a fast compelling read. 

I don’t know if it was the bleakness of the narrative, the paucity of characters the reader could care about, or the constant details about addicts and the drug trade but I was slightly disappointed in Phantom. The were none of the plot pyrotechnics that distinguished some of the earlier books. The twists that were there were fairly predictable and I felt that I had possibly been spoilt by previous Harry Holes. Author Jo Nesbo was coming down to earth with a more straightforward story concentrating on Oslo’s drug trade. 

‘Heinrich Dreser. He discovered aspirin in 1897. Afterwards he worked on modifying diacetylmorphine. Not a lot needs to be done, molecule here, molecule there, and hey presto, it fastens on to other receptors in the human body. Eleven days later, Dreser had discovered a new drug. It was sold as cough medicine right up to 1913.’

‘And the drug was?’

‘The name was supposed to be a pun on a brave woman.’

‘Heroine,’ Harry said.

Jo Nesbo has said that in Phantom he wanted to explore Harry as a father figure, and go into the dark side of Oslo with detailed research on the drug scene. Giving the reader large chunks of detailed information is one of the most interesting features of Nordic crime fiction. However in Phantom some of the information and minor plots lines almost seemed to be there to pad out the narrative and some seemed repetitive. I thought this detracted from the flow of the plot and the suspense. There is nothing new or particularly inventive in Phantom’s sad tale of the ruin of young lives from addiction. There is nothing unique in the Oslo drug scene described in such detail in Phantom as it probably exists in some form in every town and city in Europe. 

I wondered if  perhaps Scandinavian crime fiction series are designed to reach a natural end at number 10 [Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck], and as this is the ninth Harry Hole he was becoming more vulnerable.  

Don’t get me wrong this is still a very good thriller, but in my opinion it is not as inventive nor does it have as many surprises as previous books in the series. There are plenty of nasty villains, lots of red herrings, some exciting set piece action sequences, and thrills galore, but it did not have that unique “Harry Hole-what the hell is going to happen next” feel about it for me.

A very good read but not near Jo Nesbo’s best, simply because he set such high standards. That said I will be waiting expectantly for the next book to be published, and despite my reservations Phantom will probably be a favourite for the International Dagger.  

Nor did the tattooist know that the pistol in the drawing, a Makarov, the Russian police’s service weapon, denoted that he, Sergey Ivanov, had killed a policeman. 

As an introduction to my review of the latest Harry Hole thriller Phantom, which is shortlisted for the 2012 CWA International Dagger Award I have reposted my review of The Leopard with links to the reviews of the rest of the series.


‘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]

The Snowman