Review: Police (Harry Hole 10) by Jo Nesbø


Police is picking up right after the dramatic shooting at the end of 2012’s Phantom so if you haven’t read that one or if you read it long time ago do jog your memory or you’ll be at a bit at a loss.

Hole is notably absent — and will remain so without any explanation for about half the book. His crime-squad workmates are left to their own devices, without a charismatic leader to steer them in the right direction, in other words, without their precious Harry. As it happens they need him more than ever. A serial killer is targeting cops and former cops who, somehow, failed to do their duties during different unsolved investigations. The killer lures them to the scene of those crimes and kills them in a way similar to the original murder which is more often than not a pretty grisly way. The investigators believe that if they can only figure out the killer’s motive, maybe they can find him or her. So far they have been left with few, if any, other clues. Will they manage to find the perpetrator before it is too late?

Meanwhile, a man lies in a coma in a heavily-guarded hospital room. A newly-appointed Oslo police chief, the young and handsome Mikael Bellman, worries about what the man might reveal if he ever returns to consciousness. Does it mean he knows who kills his people in cold blood? What will Bellman do if the man in hospital starts talking?

My impressions (with spoilers):

The tenth Harry Hole book left me lukewarm and disappointed. Perhaps it had an interesting plot line at its core but most of it was marred by too much gimmickry and manipulation. Nesbo added twist after twist, overusing his own literary devices to the point it seemed like he was parodying himself. Only he wasn’t. Jumping the shark – that’s the expression which fits this book perfectly. Harry Hole officially jumped the shark for me – it’s time to say goodbye . Let me explain why.

First of all the book was really too long, with too many more or less interesting backstories of different secondary characters interlacing each other. I could have survived it had the book been good– I like long novels – but, unfortunately, it wasn’t. The lack of a strong central character until around the halfway point made itself felt.  Perhaps the concept might have been fresh and intriguing for a chapter or two but after a while I found it damaging to the flow of the story. When Harry finally appeared, miraculously addiction-free, hale and hearty, he was more of a hindrance than a help. His continuous existence and relative happiness, in such a strong contrast to the dramatic cliffhanger, ending the previous part, or indeed, the whole Harry character so far, was explained in such a way that it felt like a cop-out, a cheap trick of an author clearly tired of his own hero. It didn’t help that,  by the time of Harry’s resurrection, you just knew it was coming. All the little tricks the author employed to avoid naming the man in the coma suggested nothing less so it was no surprise at all. When an author works that hard to avoid telling you exactly what he’s describing, you know it’s not what it seems. Another major hint – Rakel (the love interest of Harry) didn’t visit the comatose patient one single time. It was so obvious: no Rakel, no Harry.

As I’ve already mentioned some of the main leads: there was very little character development; in fact, Nesbo wrote as if he’s lost interest in most of them, mostly in Harry I have to say. I’ve read most of the Harry Hole books and some I liked more than others, but this one was the first part I had a hard time getting through – by the last few pages I was mostly skimming, and wincing. Everybody was somehow cardboard-thin, never acting as a real person. Instead I got sick rape fantasies. Even our saintly Harry was tempted more than once. Of course he resisted but by that time I was so bored and disillusioned with the book that I wished he didn’t – that’s what bad writing could do to a reader.

Finally let me warn you: the novel is full of  cheap gimmicks and quite crude tricks intended to gin up the nonexistent excitement. They are so frequent and obvious that  even before the first half is over you latch onto the rules and then it’s like the fable of the boy who cried wolf – you don’t believe one single word. After a while a really annoying routine sets in: every now and then the author puts some characters in apparent danger, cutting away to another scene and then returning to the danger scene which proves to be…quite safe, because the mysterious miscreant is revealed to be just a friend or co-worker. Nesbø also frequently makes a situation seems threatening by not telling the reader who a character is, just referring to him as “he,” so that the reader thinks the worst. Still it can work only one time and, as the book is long, it is repeated too often to have the desired impact. And it is childish.

Also, there was some sloppiness in writing that irked and surprised me. Lines like, “They sat in silence listening to the expensive Holmenkollen silence” should have been caught and eliminated in an early stage. Some would say they should never have happen in a book written by a Glass Key award winning and fairly experienced writer. Once again I don’t know who is exactly to blame: the sloppy, lazy author, his equally lax editor or maybe the translator? Not that I terribly care, mind you.

Final verdict:

My bad – maybe I expected too much of a criminal series, now up to 10 books. While there were some good parts in Police, this time it was mainly the negatives that stood out to me. Reading it I  spent so much time feeling manipulated by an author who clearly thinks his readers are too stupid to recognize several tricks repeated over and over again; tricks which are not only crude but also similar to each other. I am so happy I borrowed the book from my library instead of buying it.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

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4 Responses to Review: Police (Harry Hole 10) by Jo Nesbø

  1. blodeuedd says:

    Bleh, the whole genre

  2. heidenkind says:

    I’ve been thinking of trying this series but I’m not sure. I don’t tend to like hard-boiled mystery novels.

    • If you have an opportunity try Batman (my review is here ). I guess you can find it in the library. It is not hard-boiled and it is set in Australia to boot! Then you’ll know whether it is your thing or not. I liked Batman immediately; still not all other parts of the series were as good.

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