(Of course there is a spoiler of sorts for The Phantom as well as for The Snowman.)
Yikes! as they used to say in the funny papers, is this the end of Harry Hole?
I get to page 440 of The Phantom and have to stop to phone Georgia, who gave me all the Jo Nesbo books for Christmas.
“Tell me it isn’t true!” I demand, but she doesn’t have time to talk. She has to rush off. “Yes or no, doesn’t take long”, I grumble as she disconnects.
I had listened to an interview with Nesbo, in which he conceded that Harry wasn’t going to go on forever, but not yet, I’m not ready to let him go yet.
It’s way past time to get dinner, but I can’t go on. I sit down, reread that page carefully, read the next ten pages very carefully, cogitate, examine and finally, go on line. Dinner is very late.
If you have read any of Nesbo’s series about the Oslo detective, Harry Hole ( sounds like whoole with the e sounded), you know that Harry is not sufficiently hardboiled. He can take any amount of physical abuse and pain, but he suffers from the emotional aftermath of his cases. The ghosts that haunt him in his dreams make his alcoholism worse. At the beginning of The Leopard, he is living in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong. The name belies the sordidness of the accommodations. He has fled there after The Snowman almost succeeded in killing Rakel, the woman Harry loves, and her son, Oleg. He is controlling his drinking by using opium. Kaja Solness has been dispatched by the police department to bring him back to catch a new serial killer, The Leopard. Harry would not have returned if she had not also brought news that Harry’s father is very ill.
Return he does and fights his way doggedly through a labyrinth of scant evidence and best guesses, taking the usual wrong turns in his search for a murderer who uses a bizarre weapon only available in the Congo. He accumulates ever more angst, including another recurring nightmare, and new physical scars and, having solved the case, flees back to Hong Kong.
Where he gets a job although it’s just as well not to inquire what his mandate is as long as you are clear that it requires wearing a suit, linen for the climate. He is neither drinking nor getting high. This time, he returns to Norway at his own behest. One of his ghosts is in trouble. The one causing the trouble is an invisible figure who gives rise to the title, The Phantom but not one who deals the blow on page 440.
So what did I conclude after all that pre-dinner research and careful rereading? It’s a matter of interpretation, no doubt. Mine prefers to err on the optimistic side. Who is that “poor man” the priest gives a twenty krone coin to as he muses about the beggar’s “innocent blue eyes of a newborn baby that needs no forgiveness for sins as yet”.