Spoilers for earlier Nesbo books and dark hints for Police.
Some months ago, I finished Jo Nesbo’s novel The Phantom in a panic and querried whether that was the end of Harry Hole (pronounced hooleh). (See Is This the End of Harry Hole https://115journals.com/2013/03/27/jo-nesbos-the-phantom-is-this-the-end-of-harry-hole/ The appearance of a new book Police seemed to argue against it, but I got well into the new book -32% into it, my Kindle said- and Harry was still missing. It’s true there was a closely guarded coma patient in an otherwise empty locked ward in Oslo. That could be Harry, I thought. Last we knew, Harry’s “step-son” Oleg Fauke had gunned him down with a Russian Odessa – a copy of the better-known Stechkin – in a drug squat.
The first few pages of Police is told from that gun’s point of view, tracing its journey from Siberia to Norway in the hands of Rudolf Asayev and finally to Rakel Fauke’s house where it is now “sleeping” in a corner cupboard, smelling of old wood, powder residue and gun oil. Nesbo helpfully reminds us that two of its five bullets killed Gusto Hanssen who had pocketed Asayev’s money and dope, and that its next three bullets hit Harry Hole. Hitchcock said that if a gun is carried onto the stage in act one, it will sooner or later be an important plot device. There are 12 bullets left in the magazine.
As to the sleeping man in a hospital bed in a locked ward, a number of people hope never to see him again, including Mikael Bellman, the bent police chief, Harry’s nemesis.
After the glimpse of the hidden Odessa, Nesbo gives us a lovely picture of September in Norway and brings Erland Vennesla, a jogger and recently retired detective onto the scene. Poor Erland soon becomes the first victim in a series of carefully executed murders of police, mostly at the site of an unsolved murder that the victim investigated. As the bodies of police begin to pile up, Harry’s old boss Gunnar Hagen, head of Crime Squad, assembles a secret inside team consisting of Harry’s helpers: Katrine Bratt, the Bergen detective who spent time in a mental hospital, Beate Lonne, the head of Krimteknisk, who literally cannot forget a face, Stale Aune, Harry’s psychotherapist, and Rasta Hat, Bjorn Holm. Meeting in the Boiler Room as of old – so far beneath police headquarters that it’s almost in the prison next door- they bemoan the fact that Harry is totally unavailable. He was Norway’s only expert on serial murderers.
Long-standing bad guys are still on the scene, including Bellman, his lover Isabel Skoyen, a prominent city councilor, and Truls Bernsten, his erstwhile sidekick, temporarily suspended from the police department but still able to act the part of ‘burner’, destroyer of evidence. Bellman, of course, forbids Gunnar Hagen to split the investigation of the police murders between the regular police department and the four in the Boiler Room.
But who is the lecturer at the police college, the expert who has enthralled an attractive student, Silje Gravseng? And why are mysterious visitors waiting for him in his office? So his red-bearded colleague, Arnold, informs him? Surely this well-spoken, well-groomed person cannot be …..
As usual in Nesbo’s books, the murders are bizarre even grotesque, and in this case, duplications of old unsolved murders. And as usual Harry and his group leap to wrong conclusions. More than once. Harry is passionate about justice and committed to finding the bad guy, but bright? Not so much.
The trouble with Jo Nesbo as a writer is that he is capable of cold bloodedly killing off even the most beloved characters. He had Ellen Gjelten, Harry’s partner beaten to death just when she was about to tell Harry who the ‘Prince’ was. As a result, Oleg got kidnapped by the villain and narrowly escaped death, not for the last time. Then in the next book, Halvorsen, Harry’s new partner and father of Beate’s son, got gunned down. Moreover, Nesbo has said that Cockroaches due to be released soon is the last Harry Hole novel. (It is actually the second book after The Bat and before The Redbreast, translated only now.)
As the novel reaches its climax, Rakel and Oleg are menaced once again and surely this time, Harry cannot save them. Or himself.
Thus, this reader arrived near the end of the book at a solemn church service where the Boiler Room crew and the surviving cast members have assembled. Bellman is impatient for the organ to announce the ceremony. How inappropriate!
I may never forgive Nesbo for his tricky ways.